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Rep. Long's Widow Wins His House Seat : Democrat Defeats 4 Candidates in Special Election in Louisiana

March 31, 1985|From Times Wire Services

NEW ORLEANS — Democrat Cathy Long won a five-way election Saturday to fill the seat of her late husband, Gillis W. Long.

With 457 of 458 precincts, or 99%, reporting from the sprawling 8th Congressional District, Mrs. Long had 52,618 votes, or 51.8% of the votes cast.

State Rep. John (Jock) Scott, 37, had 27,123 votes, or 26.7%, and nurseryman Clyde Holloway, the only Republican in the open primary, had 18,045 votes, or 17.8%.

Attorney Daniel Becnel and businessman Frank McTopy shared the remaining 3.8% of the vote.

"It feels wonderful. I can't wait to get started in my new job," Long, 61, said. "I know that my husband would be so proud of my victory."

Long outdistanced her opponents in nearly every region.

The only real challenge came from Scott in Rapides Parish, which is home to both of them. There, Long led Scott, 10,600 to 8,505.

Gov. Edwin W. Edwards called the special election after Gillis Long's death from a heart attack on Jan. 20. Long, a Democrat who served eight terms, was a cousin of Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.), who has represented the state for 54 years and has decided not to seek reelection in 1986.

Gillis Long was noted for his opposition to many of President Reagan's programs. He held the seat in the early 1960s, lost it, then regained it in 1972 and held it until his death.

Under Louisiana's nonpartisan primary system, all candidates appear on the same ballot. The candidate who receives 50% plus one vote is declared the winner. If no one received a majority of the votes, the two top finishers would have competed in a runoff May 4.

Storms Cut Turnout

Heavy thunderstorms and a tornado watch in central Louisiana cut voter turnout for the special election. Secretary of State Jim Brown predicted that 35% to 38% of the 300,475 registered voters would vote.

Long became the second congressman's widow to win in the state. Democratic Rep. Lindy Boggs has been in Congress since her husband, Hale, died in a plane crash in Alaska in 1972.

The only controversy in the campaign arose when Scott and Holloway complained that Long, who had name recognition throughout the district, was riding on the sympathy vote and her husband's record and that she refused to discuss issues or debate them.

Not until last Monday, at a Baton Rouge Press Club meeting, did all five candidates appear in the same forum.

"If Cathy Long can't talk to us, how can she talk for us in Washington?" Scott complained.

Long replied that she did not see any reason to give the other candidates free publicity.

However, her chief campaign strategist, Carson Killen, who was an aide to the late congressman, conceded: "She is going to get elected this first time out as Mrs. Gillis Long and not as Cathy Long."

The biggest issue in the race was high unemployment in the district.

Farmers and families with ties to organized labor make up a large part of the voting public. More than a third of the registered voters in the district are black.

The district stretches from the central part of the state southeastward to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. In the 1984 presidential election, Reagan carried the district over Democrat Walter F. Mondale, but only by a narrow margin.

Long had said that she would spend about $600,000 in the race; Scott about $150,000; and Holloway about $125,000. Becnel said that he spent about $22,000, all his own money. McTopy said that he had "very few resources."

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