Caldwell faced no serious challenge this fall and, while betraying some liberal attitudes such as supporting contingency fee payments for state business that do more to enrich trial lawyers than bring justice and countenancing jackpot justice under his watch, he also has acted on conservative themes such as joining the state to a suit that yesterday garnered a ruling that the 2010 health care changes championed by liberal Democrats were unconstitutional, so it’s not a stretch to argue that this move doesn’t go significantly against type for him unlike with other recent switchers.
If anything, staying with the Democrat label when he ran in 2007 might have been more for political reasons than ideological in his case. Then, he faced off against a liberal Democrat damaged by decisions he made while in office, and a conservative Republican who damaged his own candidacy by decisions he made during it. Calling himself a Democrat, as he had for his several terms as a district attorney but not articulating liberal preferences may have made him seem a safe, moderate default choice for voters.
But three years later the Democrat label has taken a scouring and worse could come by the state’s election day, so its usefulness no longer exists in this context, whereas adopting the Republican label might prove handy to cut off at the pass a Republican from thinking he can ride discontent over Democrats into knocking off Caldwell. The best opponent for an incumbent is no opponent at all, and with nearly $200,000 banked at the end of 2009, the switch increases the chance he’ll get a free ride this fall.
More significantly, out of seven statewide officials and the two U.S. senators elected statewide, now only Sen. Mary Landrieu remains a Democrat. Assuming Caldwell files the paperwork by the end of the week, on that day five years ago, only one of the nine, Sen. David Vitter, was a Republican. And looking forward by Feb. 19, then back five years to that day, when then Democrats held a 67-37 advantage in the state House led 25-14 in the Senate, by contrast shortly in the future the GOP should hold a 52-48 advantage in the House and may lead the Senate 20-19. This means in five years Democrats will have gone from 88.89 percent of officials elected statewide to 11.11 percent of them, from 63.81 percent of House members to 46.15 percent of them, and from 64.10 percent of senators to 48.72 percent of them. That’s not just a tide coming in; it’s a tsunami.
It’s happened that fast that Louisiana has caught up with the rest of the South, and after 2011 elections the GOP likely will extend its leads further in the Legislature; it now cannot go higher in number with the seven constitutional officers by having all of them – the last time the same party had all being 20 years ago but then all Democrat, and never all Republican in the post-Reconstruction era. If you are a Louisiana Democrat loyalist, the world indeed has turned upside down.