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28.9.06

Negative campaigns likely to help GOP, harm Democrats

There’s a right way and a wrong way to perform negative advertising, and for this round of elections in Louisiana it looks as if the Republicans got it right and the Democrats got it wrong.

Republicans have targeted Democrat Secretary of State candidate Francis Heitmeier in what, practically speaking, will be a three-man contest between him and Republicans state Sen. Jay Dardenne and businessman Mike Francis. This follows the prime logic of negative advertising: because it dislodges supporters of the target, you should do it only when you’re reasonably sure another dynamic will shift those votes to benefit your candidate.

That is reasonably clear in this case, since discouraged presumed Heitmeier voters either would not vote at all or would not vote for any of the minor candidates. Still, it’s not that likely to work, for two reasons. First, despite what some have speculated, Heitmeier’s chances of making the general election runoff are very high. Even if you could argue that 100,000 more black than white voters have fled New Orleans after the hurricane disasters of 2005, the state’s black proportion of the electorate still comprises 25 percent so with blacks only slightly less likely to turn out than whites and almost all blacks voting for Heitmeier, it wouldn’t take many white liberals’ votes to get him there, making this effort a longshot.

Also, if the GOP goal is to get both of its candidates into the runoff, Heitmeier defectors must disappear from the voting booth or be attracted to one or both GOP candidates in a way that accomplishes this goal. For example, if one candidate leads Heitmeier, the defectors would have to vote for the trailing candidate; there’s no way the GOP can guarantee that these defectors will vote for the trailing candidate. All in all, however, it’s worth a flier – nothing ventured, nothing gained.

By contrast, state Democrat efforts to influence the Shreveport mayor’s race promise no good payoff and might even damage its cause. These ads attack frontrunner former city attorney and Republican Jerry Jones. Behind him tags along Democrats state Rep. Cedric Glover and city spokeswoman Liz Swaine. The theory would be that sloughing off potential Jones voters might push him behind both Glover and Swaine.

But that tactic has almost no chance of success. Best that can be told, Jones has a double-digit lead on these Democrats so that would be a lot of ground to make up. This might be more realistic if some of these voters found their ways into the Democrats’ columns but few would go for Swaine and practically none to Glover (although the disproportion in favor of Swaine is enough for Democrats supporting Glover to complain of the tactic, cloaking their political motive in rhetoric along the lines of the ad campaign makes Democrats look “bad”).

Further, the detached voters could wander their way into the arms of former city economic developer Arlena Acree, a Republican. If for some reason Jones lost a significant chunk of support, it probably would head her way rather than Swaine’s and both she, with her new support, and Jones, whose lead is big enough to handle some defectors, could ace out any Democrat being in the runoff.

While the Republicans’ launching their negative campaign on Heitmeier may not work, it could and won’t have any negative consequences. However, the Democrats’ strike against Jones almost certainly represents a total waste of resources, and may even backfire on the party.

27.9.06

Shreveport elections may create Caddo Commission fireworks

Depending upon the vagaries of the electorate, starting in December things might get very interesting around the Caddo Parish Commission and the situation could last for as many as five months.

This is because four current Commission members are running for Shreveport City Council seats, Democrat Joyce Bowman and Republicans Bob Brown, Michael Long, and Ron Webb. In fact, all would have to be considered favorites in their contests for, respectively, Districts G, D, C, and E.

Regardless of whether any of them win outright in the primary, they would be seated on the Council in late November. State election law then kicks in with the tendering of their resignation, and the provisions of R.S. 18:402 would put the election to fill these seats on Apr. 7, 2007. Winners would take their seats in early May.

In the meantime, this means the Commission soldiers on undermanned. And while the important decision of who should be the next parish administrator should be resolved before, if any, of them depart, at least one big decision will be made by a potentially-depleted Commission – the 2007 budget.

Note that if any of these commissioners resign early to take on a new elective job, the partisan balance of the Commission likely will change. At 6-all Democrat/Republican presently, depending upon who leaves could alter radically the scales, with the most extreme possibility being Bowman fails while all three of the GOP succeed, giving Democrats a 6-3 advantage for several months.

While it may be fashionable, particularly for Democrats, to claim that party affiliation really doesn’t matter when it comes to local government, the fact is an officeholder’s label does usually convey a stable set of attitudes and expected behavior of those choosing that label. At this level of government, simply put Democrats will favor larger government utilizing more of the people’s resources, and disproportionately for funding social service kinds of activities, than will Republicans who generally want smaller government taking less of the citizens’ money and would more likely spend that on public safety activities.

The budget should be an early indication of whether a new majority will take advantage of the changed balance. Last year some allocations to community groups slightly were scaled back. If Bowman only goes, Republicans could accelerate that process. But if Bowman doesn’t and at least one GOP commissioner does, or even if she does but joined by two such GOP commissioners, Democrats will minimize that option in this era of relatively declining parish revenues and look for other sources of revenue before cuts elsewhere. The nightmare scenario for conservatives would be the 6-3 ratio, allowing the Commission to roll forward property tax rates which it deferred doing so when the previous round of property assessments came out.

Unless all four fail in their bids or just Bowman and a Republican wins, look for some policy changes to come out of the Commission for at least a few months.

26.9.06

Bumbling Blanco burns political capital for nothing

Besides advocating policies harmful to Louisiana, another reason Gov. Kathleen Blanco will not win a second term is that events subsequent to her successful foisting of some bad policies on the state made them, and her expenditure of political capital and unfavorable publicity she got doing so, moot without any benefits.

With next to no publicity, this past legislative session the Legislature, with Blanco’s blessing, quietly repealed the misnamed “Healthcare Affordability Act.” Better known to Louisiana as the “sick tax,” Blanco spent a lot of energy and took big political damage over her support of its passage in 2005, which would have assessed a fee of 1.5 percent on hospitals which would have passed it along to consumers. In light of the seismic changes wrought upon the state health care system by the 2005 hurricane disasters, Blanco thought better of imposing this on hospitals and consumers.

The same political result now may be happening in reference to a piece of 2006 legislation, also supported by Blanco, which mandates that ethanol be sold with gasoline if ethanol production reaches a certain level. The legislation is seriously flawed because it allows political considerations to trump the marketplace, meaning a large transfer of wealth from consumers to a few special interests producing ethanol.

25.9.06

Money attracted to quality in Shreveport mayor race

A canard about elections frequently circulated, often by those who should know better is “the more money spent, the more chance you have of being elected.” Not only does this phrasing not demonstrate as direct of a correlation as one may think, it also fundamentally misunderstands the role of money in elections.

Upon receiving this statement, one might be forgiven for making the next logical inference, which would be something like “money buys victory.” It does not, and let’s start with an empirical demonstration why not. Just to use one example, in 2004 in U.S. Senate elections, of the 34 of them, only 75 percent of the top 20 spenders won election. Further, in 4 of the 34, the lower spender won. Finally, 18 of the races weren’t competitive – the winner got better than 60 percent of the vote. In the competitive 16 contests was where the four lower spenders won. (The only defeated incumbent outspent his rival 3:2.)

This example, which is typical, points out several things which help us understand the relationship between spending and electoral performance. First of all, given the composition of the jurisdiction and perceptions of the candidate (usually an incumbent), in the majority of cases no amount of spending is going to make a difference, in that one candidate will clearly win regardless. (Perhaps the best example ever being the $64 million Democrat Tony Sanchez spent in 2002, $40 million more than his Republican incumbent opponent, to lose by 18 percent in a bid for the Texas governorship.)

Second, money is a relative thing: for example, in 2004 Sen. Arlen Specter raised the most money and won a close election while former Sen. Tom Daschle was close behind in spending yet lost his close election – even though Specter outspent his opponent by $17 million and Daschle outspent his by $7 million. (There were plenty out there who won by far bigger margins who didn’t spend much more than their opponents, or who spent among the lowest amounts of all the winners – the average competitive winner spent almost $13 million while the average noncompetitive winner spent under $6 million.)

Third, focusing on absolute spending misses the entire relevance of money in elections, because it rests on the untenable (and, as demonstrated above, empirically unsupported notion) that money creates quality in the minds of the electorate. In fact, that is the reverse of reality: it is candidate quality that attracts money. What money gets raised is the key, not what gets spent, and more gets spent (and thus raised) the more opponents spend (because they are able to raise it). In short, spending is wholly dependent upon the number of quality candidates in a contest; more than one elevates spending because more money is raised as each tries to fend off a quality opponent.

People (usually) are not irrational when comes to investments, which is what a donation to a political candidate is. The put their money down, so to speak, because they believe the candidate has quality and, therefore, has a chance to win. Unless you have unshakeable ideological convictions and are acting purely on principle, you don’t want to put your money where you know it will be wasted in defeat. Candidates who are perceived as higher quality are able to raise more because people (who for whatever reasons want them elected) see them as decent bets to win, and need to raise more if they face a similar quality opponent. That is, they raise more because they need to, and because they can.

Former city attorney Jerry Jones, the leading money-raiser in the race, well may win the mayor’s race and spend the most doing so. But that will only be a reflection of the quality of a candidate he is – both in terms of getting donations and votes – not because he “bought” any victory that may be his.

24.9.06

Third District Race could determine U.S. House majority

Even though this contest is not on the ballot this Saturday, the frontrunners in the Louisiana Third Congressional District race already are playing for keeps concerning an election which may gain national attention for weeks after the national election day.

Incumbent Democrat Charlie Melancon and Republican state Sen. Craig Romero square off again from 2004, when Melancon barely squeaked by Romero in the primary and then barely beat his opponent, lobbyist Billy Tauzin III, in no small part to Romero’s attacking Tauzin after the primary through ads. Romero seemed to think this necessary out of a belief Tauzin had done the same prior to the primary.

It also might have been a strategy looking forward to this year. In a GOP-leaning district, he knew that if the Republican Tauzin got in he might not have been dislodged by anybody for a long tine, so his one chance was to get a more vulnerable Democrat elected at first, and then take him on again this year. In fact, Pres. George W. Bush scored 58 percent of the vote in this district, the highest he would draw in any district won by a Democrat in 2004.