- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - In a tense and bitter election season, Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District race may be something of an anomaly, a race that’s almost downright genteel.

The eight candidates vying to fill the northwest Louisiana-based seat left open because Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming is running for the U.S. Senate have avoided personal clashes, instead focusing on their own biographical stories and positions ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, described the competition as “remarkably refreshing,” because it “has not devolved into an ugly, mean-spirited contest.”

Five Republicans, one Democrat and two candidates without party affiliation are in the race, which is expected to be decided in a December runoff set if no one reaches above the 50 percent mark when all contenders, regardless of party, face each other on the ballot in two weeks. The 4th District is largely rural, stretching from the Arkansas line into southwest Louisiana, including the Shreveport area.

As the lone Democrat, Marshall Jones, a lawyer and businessman from Shreveport, is expected to have the automatic edge on a runoff spot. The question largely appears to be what Republican he’ll be facing.

Three Republicans have drawn most of the attention: Shreveport cardiologist Trey Baucum, Shreveport City Council member Oliver Jenkins and state Rep. Mike Johnson. All three are running on traditional GOP positions. The differences are in their biographies.

Baucum is focusing on his background as a doctor and a political newcomer. In one TV ad, he describes a “sickness in Washington: too many politicians.”

“I think the country’s being destroyed by career politicians,” Baucum said at a recent forum. “I think the founding fathers intended for regular citizens to periodically go up to Congress to straighten things out, people who have actually held a job.”

Johnson has talked of his record, both his decades as a constitutional attorney and his nearly two years in the Louisiana Legislature, pushing social and fiscal conservative issues.

“Record matters more than rhetoric,” Johnson said. “You shouldn’t listen to what any candidate says. You should look at what they’ve been doing over the last 10 or 20 years, because that’s how they’re going to serve you in Congress.”

Jenkins, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marines, has highlighted his military career as a fighter pilot, promoting the importance of the two major military installations in the 4th District, Barksdale Air Force Base and Fort Polk.

Other GOP contenders include lawyer Rick John of Shreveport, who lags behind his fellow Republicans in fundraising, and former state Sen. Elbert Guillory, a lawyer who is the only candidate from outside the Shreveport area. Guillory, who mounted a failed campaign for lieutenant governor last year, is from Opelousas in the southern end of the district.

The only black candidate competing for the seat, Guillory has made race a front-and-center issue in his campaign. Since he left the Democratic Party in 2013, Guillory has urged other African-Americans to follow his lead, saying the Democrats have taken black support for granted. In recent fundraising emails, he’s talked of abandoning the “government plantation and party of disappointment” and said he’s been accused of being an “uppity negro” because of his switch.

Like the Republicans, Jones - who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1988 and is endorsed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards - also has positioned himself as an anti-abortion, pro-gun candidate. He talks of Congress as in need of more compromise, and he says he won’t rigidly adhere to a party philosophy.

“I see that middle aisle on the House floor as just a way to get to my seat, and I will gladly cross it often,” Jones said in one online video.

Jones is trying to avoid being pigeonholed as a Democrat in a district that has favored Republicans in recent years.

Candidates without party affiliation include Mark Halverson of Shreveport, and Kenneth Krefft of Shreveport, who regularly dresses in colonial costume to recite the Declaration of Independence. Neither man has reported any fundraising in the race.


Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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