Running for Office from Several States Away

Stacey Tallitch is running for Congress, seeking to represent Louisiana's First Congressional disrict. But thanks to Hurricane Katrina — as Chris Lehman of member station WNIJ notes — the Tallitch campaign is based in DeKalb, Ill.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, cleaning up a meth lab mess.

But first, as next year's midterm elections approach, congressional hopefuls across the country are hitting the streets, trying to spread their message. But it's hard to be the door-to-door hand-shaking, baby-kissing kind of candidate when you live 800 miles away from the voters you hope to represent. Chris Lehman of member station WNIJ in DeKalb, Illinois, reports.

CHRIS LEHMAN reporting:

Stacey Tallitch kicked off his campaign for Louisiana's 1st Congressional District in August. Three weeks later Hurricane Katrina all but destroyed his suburban New Orleans home. Finding refuge with relatives in Illinois, Tallitch was faced with the question of how or even whether to continue his campaign.

Mr. STACEY TALLITCH (Congressional Candidate): I've spent so much time the last two years investing into this campaign as it is. It's either all or nothing right now.

LEHMAN: Stacey Tallitch is a Democrat and is trying for the job held by Republican Bobby Jindal, an incumbent with name recognition and a million-dollar war chest. Tallitch says he made the decision to continue his campaign in part because he thinks the hurricane and its aftermath may have improved his chances.

Mr. TALLITCH: Challengers have the upper hand on a strategic level, and from a Machiavellian point of view that sounds kind of sick and twisted to take advantage of this kind of a situation, but I was in this before--before the hurricane, and I intended to do it, as I'm doing it now.

LEHMAN: Well, not quite as he's doing it now.

(Soundbite of espresso machine operation)

LEHMAN: Stacey Tallitch certainly didn't imagine he'd be running his campaign out of a coffee house in downtown DeKalb, Illinois. Employees at the House Cafe have gotten used to seeing Tallitch commandeer a corner booth while nursing a cafe mocha. He says it's the only place in town that offers both wireless Internet access and a smoking section. Tallitch plans to conduct what he calls an aggressive door-to-door campaign once he returns to Louisiana. Right now all he can do is make phone calls. Even that can be a fruitless endeavor.

Mr. TALLITCH: The ratio of pickups is probably about one in a hundred of the people that I call. A lot of the phones have been disconnected. A lot of the people just aren't picking up because they're not there.

LEHMAN: The fact that people aren't there could play a role in next year's elections. Louisiana State University political science Professor Wayne Parent says shifting demographics will be the election's wild card along the Gulf Coast. Even so, Parent says Congressman Jindal will be tough to beat.

Professor WAYNE PARENT (Louisiana State University): What an opponent would have going for him is attaching Congressman Jindal to the Republican establishment in Washington and perhaps some demographic changes, although I'm not sure that the demographic changes in the first district would be that dramatic, and if they are dramatic, they wouldn't be dramatically helpful to a Democrat.

LEHMAN: Repeated phone calls to Jindal's campaign office were not returned. So far Tallitch is the only candidate to challenge Jindal, though the filing deadline for next year's election isn't until August. Louisiana doesn't hold a congressional primary in the same way as most other states. All candidates there face each other in an open primary in November, and if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, there's a run-off between the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation.

Democrat Bonnie Andra(ph) says she's a potential Tallitch supporter. She lives in Covington, Louisiana, in a part of the 1st Congressional District that wasn't hit as hard by the hurricane as areas immediately surrounding New Orleans. She says any candidate who wants her vote will have to talk about more than preventing another Katrina.

Ms. BONNIE ANDRA: Goodness knows we need that, but we need to look beyond.

LEHMAN: Stacey Tallitch says he'll talk about a broad range of issues--that is, just as soon as he moves back to Louisiana in the coming months. For NPR News, I'm Chris Lehman in DeKalb, Illinois.

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