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LA atty. gen. race may act as GOP, reform bellwether

Perhaps the best indicator of partisan fortunes in Louisiana state elections this year will come from a contest that typically does not generate a lot of excitement, that for attorney general. It also can tell much about how anti-incumbent sentiment there is out there that will tend to favor Republican candidates.

There’s no doubt that the best Democrats can hope for in this cycle is to minimize losses. They may be able to prevent any losses in the state Senate but will lose some seats in the House. They also look highly likely to lose most statewide offices (that all but one major candidates running for governor was a Republican six months ago and the only long-time Democrat in the race was considered to be a second-tier choice and continues to lag the others in funding is telling).

On primary election day, we will know whether the GOP is headed for big or minimal success, or somewhere in between by the end of the general election day next month, on the outcomes of the governor’s, agriculture commissioner’s, and attorney general’s races. For governor, Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal faces the “original” Democrat, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat, and a Republican-turned-independent as major foes. For agriculture commissioner, incumbent Democrat Bob Odom faces two major Republicans. For attorney general, incumbent Democrat Charles Foti faces Republican Royal Alexander and Democrat Buddy Caldwell.

Minimal expectations will be met if Jindal is forced into a runoff, Odom makes a runoff, and Foti makes a runoff. They go higher if Jindal wins outright and Odom fails to make the runoff. Things will look really well for the GOP if in addition Foti fails to make the general election runoff.

The attorney general’s race is the bellwether because Jindal is widely expected to win the governor’s contest while Odom, beset with strong challengers and plenty of controversy and bad publicity, is expected to have a tough time holding onto his position. But real Republican and reformist waves would be evident if Alexander and Caldwell make a runoff, with Alexander eventually winning.

This is because each attorney general candidate has his strengths and flaws as candidates. Foti has the advantages of incumbency but has lost two high profile cases that he was advised by many professionals that he could not win, spending millions of taxpayers dollars in these futile efforts that look more and more like publicity stunts (despite the losses, he insists he was correct). Alexander has solid Republican and conservative credentials and a variety of experiences in and out of government and different levels, but has faced a lawsuit over his previous employment as a congressional staffer (whether the suit has any merit, which he says it doesn’t) and has had made public some statements that made it look like he was skirting campaign finance laws (even as all parties involved say he was not). Caldwell brings much experience as a district attorney but was involved in questionable dealings over public monies (he says they were honest mistakes) and reacted very intemperately when the state audited him over these matters which makes him look ill-suited to run a large government agency (he says he was being unfairly hounded over the matters).

With candidate dynamics such as these in play, partisanship and anti-incumbent attitudes will play a larger role than typical in this contest. Without a significant increase in Republican or reformist sentiment this fall, Foti will make the runoff and win. Sufficient voter disgust with lackadaisical state performance will translate into an anti-incumbent bent that would send Foti home on Oct. 20, as partisans will have a choice to vote for non-incumbents Caldwell or Alexander. But a significant boost in favor of the GOP will make Alexander come out on top of Caldwell on Nov. 17.

Expectations are for a Jindal win and trouble for Odom. But Alexander making the runoff and winning will make it a big cycle for Republicans. That the attorney general’s race may be the only Republican/Democrat clash left for the runoff will make it even more crucial for coattails down to the legislative level, meaning that if Alexander can win, expect gains for the GOP in the state lower chamber perhaps to the point of a Republican-majority House convening in 2008.


Anonymous said...

Foti and Caldwell have been in office a combined seventy (70) years. It is time to give someone else a chance if our state is ever to escape its terrible reputation. Alexander has excellent ideas about how to do that.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. We have got to move in a different direction. If I am going to vote for Buddy Caldwell I may as well vote for Foti. Royal Alexander has my vote.

John B said...

A few weeks ago I contacted the current Atty Gens office, tried to report an Out of state co doing business here, cheating Louisiana out of unemployment taxes, state income Taxes, workmans comp insurance premiums, poluting out lands, and their response was, "Oh I see you are wantint to "Save Louisiana"...............................well, Someone sure as hell needs to,