A GOP Problem or a Jenkins Problem?

Matt Lewis
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Posted: May 04, 2008 4:40 PM
On Monday, I wrote about the importance of supporting Woody Jenkins in Louisiana's special election.  Sadly, he did not prevail yesterday

This, of course, may -- or may not -- have major implications ...

Because Jenkins' opponent -- Democratic State Representative Don Cazayoux -- was compared to Barack Obama in Republican TV ads, the lesson some are taking from this defeat is that attempts to tie future Democratic candidates to Obama and Rev. Wright simply won't work.  This, of course, is wishful thinking on the part of Obama supporters.  It may be that this was a bad test-case.

For one thing, it was not easy to tie Cazayoux to Obama.  Cazayoux did a good job of portraying himself as a "John Breaux" conservative Democrat who was pro-gun and pro-life.  This will not always be the case in other states, however. 

Another reason it may not be fair to conclude that the Obama linkage wasn't the problem is that some see Jenkins as a flawed candidate.  I talked with two top GOP operatives this week, and both agreed with that assessment. 

One went so far as to argue that a generic or "random" Republican would have an easier time winning the seat than Jenkins.  He was viewed as a controversial conservative with lots of baggage.  Moreover, they argued that his campaign was not well-organized -- and that he could not raise money.  The money issue seems to be true, inasmuch as most of the money spent on Jenkins' behalf was by the NRCC, Club for Growth, and other outside groups -- not from Jenkins' campaign, itself.

According to these top Republican operatives, Jenkins' defeat is not so much a harbinger of things to come, as much as a warning that Republicans need to field better candidates.

Of course, RNC-types -- and political operatives, in general -- tend to be pragmatists who sometimes look down their nose at hard-core conservatives.  So any criticism of Jenkins -- a devout conservative who once brought a plastic fetus on the floor of the legislature -- should be taken with that in mind.

In any event, national GOP operatives note that Obama's introduction into the race actually helped narrow the gap for Jenkins.  It will be interesting to see if these early races are, in fact, indications of a continued GOP slide in November.