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The Finish Line

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With last month's conclusion of two House runoff elections in Louisiana, the 2004 campaign was officially over, with Republicans having picked up a net gain of three seats in the House for a 232-203 majority, counting independent Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont as a Democrat.

Before the Nov. 2 general election, the expectations were that there would be little change in the House, that either side might pick up one to three seats, and that Republicans were seen as more likely to gain than lose seats. The lack of competitive races in the House limited the ability of either party to score significant gains in the absence of some kind of tidal wave movement.

The National Republican Congressional Committee was successful in raising and spending more money than its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The most recent FEC filing showed that the NRCC outraised the DCCC for the cycle by $175 million to $91 million. According to the Campaign Finance Institute, the NRCC spent $48.2 million to $34.2 million for the DCCC in the period between Sept. 1 and Oct. 28.

This spending gap most certainly helped Republican Rep.-elect Dave Reichert prevail over Democrat Dave Ross in the pricey Seattle market in Washington's 8th District. Despite the influence of 527 groups in the presidential election, there was very little outside money spent in House races. A notable exception was the League of Conservation Voters, which spent heavily in the open Colorado 3rd District race, helping Democratic Rep.-elect John Salazar win the seat.

Most important, predictions of a polarized and partisan electorate that would oust candidates who were sitting in the "wrong" districts just never materialized.

Perennial Democratic targets in "red" states -- members such as Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah, Dennis Moore of Kansas and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota -- actually saw their margins improve from 2002.

In Connecticut, GOP Rep. Rob Simmons outperformed President Bush significantly in his very "blue" 2nd District.

It will be interesting to see if Rep. Anne Northup, R-Ky., a long standing Democratic target, will remain in the crosshairs after her impressive 60 percent showing this year. Before this election, Northup had never taken more than 53 percent.

Defeated Indiana Rep. Baron Hill, the only Democratic incumbent outside of Texas to lose re-election, was sitting in a "red" seat. But, insiders blame Hill's loss less on a partisan wave and more on his voting record.

He had cast votes on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion rights that were easy to portray as out of step with this culturally conservative district. Some Democratic insiders also argue that Hill waited too long to hit back after Republicans launched negative attacks on him.

In Louisiana's two runoffs, the parties merely traded seats. In the 7th District, currently held by Democratic Rep. Chris John, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate, Republican cardiac surgeon Charles Boustany beat Democratic state Sen. Willie Mount, 55 percent to 45 percent.

By the end, there wasn't too much doubt in the outcome, though Mount was impressive as a mayor of Lake Charles and made many fans in the state Legislature.

Even Democrats conceded that her campaign was a mess, particularly the advertising. One significant problem was the decision of the Louisiana state Democratic Party to pay for part of the costs of a sample primary ballot to be distributed to voters in the district that endorsed Mount at the expense of state Sen. Don Cravins, a prominent black candidate in the race.

The black community was up in arms over the state party taking sides. And this, combined with inadequacies in Mount's campaign, created an uphill fight for Democrats. Conversely, Boustany was both an impressive candidate and had a top-flight campaign that took advantage of the situation to its fullest.

Mount even lost areas of the district that Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., carried in last month's presidential campaign. Parishes that had never voted for a Republican congressional candidate went GOP this time.

In the 3rd District, Billy Tauzin III got a great deal of attention, particularly in Washington, in the contest to replace his father, retiring GOP Rep. W.J. (Billy) Tauzin, a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But the younger Tauzin was an unimpressive candidate with a campaign that was not fated to win any awards at all.

The line "Little Billy" stuck to the 31-year-old candidate like tar paper, costing him the district that President Bush carried just last month.

The winner, former state Rep. Charlie Melancon, a former president of the American Sugar Cane League, ran an aggressive campaign and effectively positioned himself as the adult in the race.

Even with that, the contest was close, with Melancon winning by only 517 votes, 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent.

Don't be surprised to see both Louisiana freshmen seriously challenged the next election cycle.

 
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