FOR two candidates in this fall's congressional race in this Deep South Cajun district - Democratic incumbent Jimmy Hayes and Republican challenger Clyde Holloway - the big question is whether to run with or against embattled President Clinton.
The two will face off in Louisiana's open primary on Oct. 1 where candidates from all parties run against each other. If one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, they win outright. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates - no matter what their party - have a run-off in November.
For Mr. Holloway, a former three-term Republican member of Congress who saw his home district carved into territories belonging to two other Louisiana congressmen after the 1990 census, the issue is clear.
Clinton is a big-spending, tax-increasing liberal Democrat and any Democrat in Congress only increases the president's strength, Holloway says in speech after speech as he works his way across the district.
But incumbent Democrat Hayes, first elected to the 7th district seat in 1986, sees the theme of the 1994 campaign differently. ``It's not a matter of which party you belong to in Congress,'' says Mr. Hayes, ``It's how you perform once you get in Congress. And if that criteria is used, I'll be reelected.''
Hayes points to his record of fiscal conservatism as proof of the kind of service he performs in Congress. He has opposed Clinton in Congress as often as he has supported him during the last two years, has voted against nearly every tax measure under the last two presidents, donated his pay raise to local colleges, and vowed never to collect his federal pension.
Despite Hayes' streak of independence, Republicans here believe the weight of being a Democrat under Clinton will be heavy enough to sink Hayes in the elections.
``It's true that he has not voted straight down the Clinton line,'' says state Republican chairman Dudley Lastrapes. ``But if he wants to move up in Congress, Hayes has to go along with the national Democratic ideology, and that is going to be one of Holloway's biggest weapons against him.''
Some local political analysts, however, wonder how strong the anti-Clinton sentiment really is.
Stretching across the lower southwest reaches of the state into the swamps and bayous of Louisiana's Acadiana - the home of thousands of Cajuns who settled the land after being forcibly removed from Nova Scotia more than 200 years ago - this district is also one of the most Democratic in the Deep South.
In the 1988 presidential race, Michael Dukakis did better here than he did nationally, while in 1992, Clinton crushed Bush by a 46-to-38 percent margin.
``I don't think a strictly anti-Clinton campaign here will work,'' says Thomas Ferrell, a professor of political science at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette.
``A candidate also has to convince voters that he cares about them on issues like economic growth and health care, and I'm not sure Holloway has come through on those things.''
Holloway also faces the challenge of uniting a local Republican party bitterly divided by recent state skirmishes.
In 1991, Holloway, heading up the anti-abortion wing of the party, ran for governor, and was accused of inadvertently aiding the gubernatorial candidacy of David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard.
Republicans argued that if the 82,000 votes Holloway won in the primary had gone to incumbent Republican Gov. Charles ``Buddy'' Roemer, Mr. Duke would have lost. Instead, Duke qualified for a runoff against Democrat Edwin Edwards. Mr. Edwards won the runoff, but the state Republican party - which had vowed to stop Duke in the primary - had suffered an ignominious defeat.
Holloway supporters, meanwhile, hope the removal of a largely black and heavily Democratic parish (county) - due to district redrawing and the entry of a little-known black candidate from the district's second-largest city - will draw votes away from Hayes.
``Our goal is to somehow hold Hayes below the 50 percent he needs to win in the primary,'' says Mr. Lastrapes. ``If we can do that, we can beat him in the general election.''
But Hayes, noting that a private poll shows him winning overwhelming Democratic support as well as up to 50 percent of the Republican vote, thinks he'll win outright the first time.
``People say I'm an independent,'' says Hayes, who supports the more moderate House health-care plan sponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper (D) of Tennessee. ``But to me it is not a matter of voting for or against a Bush or Clinton when I'm in Congress. I cast votes for southwest Louisiana and its 600,000 people. If that agrees with a Democratic or Republican president, it's just accidental.''