|U.S. Rep. John Cooksey (Republican)|
Three-term Congressman John Cooksey started running for the Senate seat held by May Landrieu more than a year and a half ago. Facing a self-imposed term limit of six years, Cooksey started running newspaper ads in late 2000 to increase his exposure beyond his northeastern Louisiana fifth-district stomping grounds.
His chances of making a major run at Landrieu took two dramatic turns in late August. First, the popular, but term-limited governor, Republican Mike Foster, announced he would not run for the Senate, instead endorsing Cooksey for the seat. But within a week, Cooksey's campaign was stunned by the decision of the National Republican Senatorial Committee to back Commissioner of Elections Suzanne Terrell with advertising money and support.
Cooksey, whose first political campaign was his successful run for the House in 1996, has staked out a largely conservative voting history. A fiscal and social conservative, he has struck out on his own in areas such as health and opposition to tobacco.
His 1996 election came in a district that had been redrawn for the third time in less than six years (the first two had been thrown out by the courts for racial gerrymandering). The new district stretched along Interstate 165 in the northeastern corner of the state. In that campaign run, he argued largely for traditional conservative values -- lower taxes, smaller government and fewer government regulations. But on a few issues he struck out on his own, endorsing tax credits encouraging people to buy American products and for developing vocational training programs.
In a crowded field that included two veteran politicians, Cooksey won the initial primary, ousting a Republican member of the U.S. House and facing a state representative. In the runoff, Cooksey walked away with the victory in the largely conservative district.
No Democrat or Republican has mounted a serious challenge to Cooksey since his first election. In 1998, he won re-election unopposed and in 2000 cruised again, garnering 67 percent of the vote in a four-way contest.
Before his run for the Congress, Cooksey had worked for nearly a quarter-century as an ophthalmologist in the town of Monroe, not far from the Arkansas border. While working in Monroe, he became active in GOP politics, but never seriously considered running for office himself. Cooksey made five mission trips to the remote Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya, where he performed eye surgery. After his first trip in 1986, he returned home and raised enough money through private donations to build a modern eye clinic at the Maua Hospital to be used by local and visiting ophthalmologists.
Cooksey has lived almost his entire life within the boundaries of what is now the fifth district. Born in Alexandria, he says he grew up next to his father's sawmill in Olla, a tiny town of 1,400 in the La Salle parish. He attended Louisiana State University and in 1966 earned a medical degree from LSU.
After graduation, he served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Although largely based in Texas, he served temporary duty in northern Thailand before returning to Louisiana.
He served his year-long residency in New Orleans and then returned to the fifth district, opening his practice in the town of Monroe.
--By Lee Banville, Online NewsHour