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Boasso switch unlikely to derail coming GOP victory

On the eve of qualifying for the 1995 governor’s contest, wealthy businessman and then state Sen. Mike Foster switched from the Democrat to Republican Parties, and less than three months later he was elected. A few months earlier and in reverse, wealthy businessman and state Sen. Walter Boasso looks set to do the same. But he is unlikely to produce the same victorious result.

The dynamics between the two contests differ in a few significant ways. First, Foster, even that late in the game, switched in an environment of a largely fragmented electorate, where opinion polls showed no real front-runner and a good quarter of the electorate still undecided. Recent polls have showed in this year Rep. Bobby Jindal already has a huge following with not many undecided.

Second, Foster’s move was to capture conservatives who did not see one they could trust in the race. He had impeccable social conservative credentials and talked a good game regarding fiscal conservatism, making the move credible. In a sense, it seemed like, as in the case of many southern Democrats to this day making the same switch, he was coming home leaving a party that had deserted him. Such a move by Boasso will not be seen the same way; few liberals are going to be comfortable with him as he has compiled a mostly-conservative voting record in the Senate.

Third, Foster was able to make the general election runoff and eventually win because of fragmentation in his opponents’ support. Crucially, now state Sen. Cleo Fields ended up attracting the vast majority of black votes which was enough to put him into the runoff and thus provided Foster with the most easily beatable candidate of the bunch. Without Fields, third-place finisher now Sen. Mary Landrieu probably not only would have finished first, but then had at least an even-money chance of beating Foster in the runoff.

To put it another way, the largely unknown Foster bested much better known candidates because he could go after voters they could only with difficulty while they had to fight among themselves and divided up others. If anything, Boasso is moving from more prosperous territory (anti-Democrat voters) to sparser fields. Fewer Republicans will vote for him now and, although the total Democrat vote cast may rise as he carries some otherwise Democrat defectors back into the party’s voting camp, it’s not enough to make him competitive against Jindal, the only well-known candidate and with fantastically-high approval ratings, who already has such a lock on the GOP base.

His biggest problem is the presence of Foster Campbell. Being the only “true” Democrat in the race, Campbell can expect a quarter of the vote right of the top from blacks, with few going to Boasso. Assuming Jindal is kept from winning outright, this means Campbell will have to get almost no non-black votes, and Boasso will have to pick up almost every white vote not committed to Republicans, to make a runoff with Jindal. (This remains true even if Metairie businessman John Georges enters the race, for he would take votes only from Jindal, but not enough to keep the congressman out of a runoff.)

This almost is impossible. Had Gov. Kathleen Blanco stayed in the race, Boasso would have had an easier time of it because she would have sucked most black support from Campbell but she would have been considered anathema by many white Democrats. This white electorate would have written off Campbell and looked elsewhere for someone like Boasso. But some of these same whites now will give Campbell a chance because he does not carry Blanco’s baggage and can be regarded as a serious candidate because of solid black support. Thus, these white Democrats no longer would consider Boasso an “anti-Blanco” alternative because they have found one in Campbell (and white liberals never would have thought that of Boasso in any event). And now with blacks heading to Campbell’s column, Boasso’s chances of making the runoff even as a Democrat are actually less than if Blanco were in it and Boasso remained loyal.

Still, they probably are better than if he stayed in the GOP, without Blanco to kick around as a device to make him look better. If the switch happens, it may make the overall Democrat vote look better than otherwise, but it’s hardly more likely to net them a win later this year.

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