By no means an overwhelming success for Tim Burns, the results of the GOP primary in Louisiana's 1st Congressional District did signal a surge for the state representative from Mandeville.
In January, he was clinging to single-digit percentages in public opinion polls. Even two weeks ago, he said he was running third behind his more easily recognized rivals, state Sen. Steve Scalise of Jefferson and Slidell Mayor Ben Morris.
But when the last ballot was cast Saturday night, Burns had moved ahead of Morris and forced Scalise into the April 5 runoff for the Republican nomination.
"Going from 6 percent to 28 in a very short period of time and rising, we're very excited about that," Burns said Monday.
Now Scalise and Burns must reload for a four-week sprint across the 1st District's six parishes. The GOP nominee then will enter the May 3 general election campaign against Democrat Gilda Reed of Metairie, who swamped her only opponent, Vinny Mendoza of Kenner, on Saturday. A first-time candidate, Reed won 70 percent and all but 39 of the 501 precincts with recorded votes.
Two additional candidates, R.A. "Skip" Galan of Hammond and Tony Gentile of Mandeville, neither affiliated with a state-recognized party, also will be on the general election ballot.
A precinct-by-precinct analysis of Saturday's Republican voting disclosed the geographic bases of support that Burns and Scalise enjoy. Burns took much of St. Tammany Parish while making inroads into Washington and eastern Tangipahoa parishes, while Scalise won every precinct south of Lake Pontchartrain and did exceptionally well up the Interstate 55 corridor into Tangipahoa.
- Click here to view a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the Republican primary
- Click here to view a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the Democratic primary
Scalise won four parishes and 48 percent of the vote, just shy of the majority needed to thwart a runoff. Burns bested Morris by 7 percentage points, finishing with 28 percent. David Simpson, a Mandeville businessman, finished a distant fourth with 3 percent.
Both the Scalise and Burns campaigns said they have spoken with Morris, who won precincts surrounding Slidell. Burns said Morris will decide this week whether to endorse a candidate. Morris did not return a call for comment Monday.
The chance of Burns' success appeared unlikely early in the campaign. But Burns said he managed to expand his base beyond the limits of his House district in Mandeville and Lacombe by extensive grass-roots campaigning. He took almost half the 41 precincts in Washington Parish, earning more than two of every five votes there.
Merlin Duke, the Washington Parish GOP chairman, said Burns won the parish because of his north shore connections. Scalise made inroads, but Duke had doubts about the state senator's ability to continue his dominance in the race.
"I think Steve Scalise got so many votes here because he looked to be the winning candidate," Duke said. "Even though he's the most famous name, he might not be the one sent to Washington."
As the only south shore candidate, Scalise managed to win every precinct in St. Charles, Jefferson and Orleans parishes. The surprise of his campaign came from the success he enjoyed in Tangipahoa, where he won by 54 percent. He attributed that to an old political bromide: hard work.
"People don't want a regional congressman," Scalise said. "They want an effective congressman."
While able to force a runoff, Burns still finds himself outmuscled by a better-financed rival, and one who enjoys a seemingly impenetrable south shore base, where 43 percent of the district's voters live.
"The big deal is obvious, and that's Scalise did 10 to 12 points better on the north shore than all the other candidates did in the south," pollster Eliot Stonecipher said.
Burns must woo Republicans from the two losing campaigns to stand a chance of overtaking Scalise, Stonecipher said.
"If Burns can get all the non-Scalise voters and turn them out again, he wins," Stonecipher said. "That's his job: Make sure nobody defects from the north shore and endorses Scalise, then he can get it done."
Ed Chervenak, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans, crunched the numbers after the primary voting. His projection, in raw data, has Scalise winning April 5 with 60.5 percent of the vote.
"Scalise is going have to hold his base in Jefferson, and Burns is going to have to do much, much better in St. Tammany," Chervenak said, but "both of them should pick up support in St. Tammany, so that'll give the edge there to Scalise."