BATON ROUGE, La. – A string of challengers jumped into the race Wednesday against Rep. William Jefferson, whose Washington office was raided by the FBI amid a federal bribery investigation.
The three-day filing period for entering the November elections started Wednesday. In Louisiana, there are no earlier party primaries; if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day, the top two go to a December runoff.
Five candidates registered Wednesday to challenge the eight-term Democrat, including two familiar names in New Orleans-area politics. Another longtime New Orleans politician was expected to enter the race later this week.
State Sen. Derrick Shepherd, who filed his election paperwork, said the corruption allegations against Jefferson have weakened the congressman's ability to represent his New Orleans-area constituents as they recover from Hurricane Katrina.
"Obviously, Congressman Jefferson is distracted," Shepherd said.
Troy Carter, a former New Orleans City Council member, and Regina Bartholomew, a lawyer who has worked for the city's school board and the U.S. Department of Labor, also filed for the race. Two little-known candidates also registered.
State Rep. Karen Carter plans to register Friday, her aides said.
Jefferson and all but one of Louisiana's other congressmen also registered Wednesday to get their names on the ballot for re-election. Aides to Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, said his paperwork would be filed Thursday.
Jefferson has been under investigation since March 2005 but has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. He has said repeatedly that he is focused on the needs of his district.
The lawmaker on Wednesday described his challengers as opportunists, saying: "These folks have a lean and hungry look. They are looking for an opportunity. ... I don't think they'll find it."
Jefferson was accused of using his position to promote the sale of telecommunications equipment and services offered by iGate, a Louisville-based firm that sought contracts with African nations, and of soliciting bribes in return. The FBI said it found $90,000 stashed in a freezer in his home. Two men have been convicted as part of the scandal.
As a result of the investigation, House Democratic leaders stripped Jefferson of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. A federal appeals court late last month temporarily delayed the bribery investigation while Jefferson challenges the legality of the unprecedented FBI raid on his Capitol Hill office.