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Odom takes one for team to boost Democrat runoff chances

Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom proved his intense loyalty to Louisiana Democrats by taking one for his party by his withdrawal from the contest for an eighth term.

Odom was unlikely to win against challenger Republican state Rep. Mike Strain, given the electoral calculus even though he narrowly led Strain 41-40 percent after the primary. It was anticipated that almost no votes from the other two defeated GOP challengers would come Odom’s way in the general election runoff.

Normally, that would not have been a consideration given that Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal polished off his competition in the primary. With highly motivated voters for change pushing buttons for Jindal at the voting booth, his removal from the general election runoff ordinarily would have meant disproportionately Republican voters would have stayed home without Jindal on the ballot, giving Odom a fighting chance. Odom had the most comprehensive political organization among state Democrats, with the ability to most easily activate Democrats to turn out and vote for him and the party’s other candidates.

But the problem was Odom polarized and activated Republican voters as well. He became the symbol of the excesses inherent to liberalism and populism in Louisiana. Having himself on the ballot would energize Republicans and reformers to turn out to vote against him – and, along the way, disproportionately to vote against other Democrats as well.

Which is why he made the decision to bail out. His chances were less than even to beat Strain, and by his deferral the chances of Democrat James “Buddy” Caldwell to defeat Republican Royal Alexander for attorney general increase, as well as the chances of Democrat legislative candidates to win their runoffs. The desire to support Jindal and to defeat Odom animated Republican and reform voters. Jindal by natural circumstances is now off the ballot, and by choice Odom has removed himself as well.

This means GOP candidates like Alexander will have to work harder to secure victory in November. Without antipathy to Odom to drive some of their voters to the polls, they’ll have to find other ways to get them fired up enough to turn out in sufficient number to bring victory, to offset the organization that Odom still controls that will do its best to get Democrat voters to the polls even without him on the ballot.

It’s fitting that Odom ends his political career this way, putting the needs of his party first. For him, it never was about what was best for Louisiana but, rather, what was best for himself and his allies. Nonetheless, it is a welcome end to an undesirable chapter in Louisiana political history.


Anonymous said...

Professor: Perhaps a future article could deal with methods Republicans, who remain in races, could utilize to turn out their voters.

Anonymous said...

Great article, as usual. One question: doesn't Odom being out of the race cut the other way as well? Ie doesn't his absence render his machine less active and thus less effective at turning out the Democratic vote? If this is true, it would seem his withdrawal arguably helps Republicans who remain in races and would benefit from a lower turnout of these traditional Democratic voters.

Jeff Sadow said...

Thanks. The reason is that Odom can work almost as well behind the scenes to get his machine to get voters out. He doesn't have to be visible to attract them, and that visibility would stimulate GOP/reform turnout.

I'm wracking my brain on strategies for GOP candidates to energize their voters without a Jindal to rally around or an Odom to flail. Hopefully I can get back to you on that in a posting in the near future.

Anonymous said...

thanks Jeff. You are the most brilliant in the field right now.