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Francis SOS bid augurs to keep job elective, kickstart GOP

Snowballs designed to turn into avalanches have to get started rolling somewhere, and the candidacy of Mike Francis for Secretary of State marks just such an effort for a concerted Republican takeover of Louisiana by the end of 2007.

Francis, an independent businessman, formerly held the top spot in the state’s Republican Party until being forced out after former Gov. Mike Foster’s reelection. This gives him cachet among GOP activists and donors, not just because of the connections he made during his long service to the party, but because when he left the state GOP sputtered as it veered away from his more conservative line.

Since this is a special election to fill the unexpired term of the late Fox McKeithen, there’ll be no competition statewide for volunteers and money. Plus, Francis is willing to commit a large sum of his own resources to the campaign. Finally, Republicans will be extra motivated to help him win back the office, the only statewide one held by a Republican until current Secretary of State Al Ater succeeded McKeithen.

All in all, it adds up to an impressive potential juggernaut of which Francis no doubt is aware. This explains why he declared his candidacy first, knowing such a show of force would discourage other possible rivals. The only Democrat who even has expressed any interest at all for the job, Sen. Sharon Weston Broome is way too liberal to be a credible threat.

Even if the office carries little in the way of political power and patronage, Republicans will not want to let this golden opportunity to grab it go by – and making any such victory sweeter the fact that it would usher out Ater, who has dragged his feet on calling elections as mandated in New Orleans by citing logistical problems (which can be solved easily) and federal government concerns (which have proven nonexistent). This obstinacy now has triggered a threat by the federal judiciary to set the elections itself within the week unless Ater does it first.

Democrats already may have thrown in the towel on this one. Ater, rumored to become head of the state Democrats after he leaves office, has stated he will lobby to have the Legislature make the office appointive for 2007 (and perhaps Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu is hinting at the same?). But with this prize now moving closer to Republicans, GOP legislators may prevent any such legislation from getting passed.

However, perhaps most importantly, a win by Francis could build momentum for big gains by Republicans in state elections in 2007. Francis already would have his job secure after a win the previous year to discourage opponents, and the activism that he might mobilize for that candidacy could spill over virally with other Republicans. Harping on Ater’s questionable deliberation which has rankled Republicans and following it with a big win could gin up bales full of enthusiasm for GOP candidates in 2007, with Francis using his new post to assist this movement. This will produce more and better candidates and greater support for them added to existing inertia moving in favor of Republicans.

If Francis can deliver on the potential of his candidacy, it not only would signal a Republican resurgence in Louisiana, but this could help bring the party to the greatest heights it ever has known in the state, even to majority status.

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