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5.12.11

LA Democrats delude selves in analyzing election results

Readers who desire an illustration of the definition of the phrase “whistling in the dark” need look no further than comments made by organizational and legislative leaders of Louisiana Democrats, on the subject of what the party and its candidates did in this past election cycle to win what they did in the Legislature, and what they need to do going forward to improve on that performance.

The template the likes of party Chairman Buddy Leach and legislative leader Eric LaFleur are attempting to have some compliant media and uninformed public accept is that, against tremendous odds and badly lacking in resources, the party’s legislative losses were sparse because it’s on the right track to “rebuild.” Hence, the argument goes, state Democrats need only do more of what they did in order to become more competitive and, as far as policy impact over the next four years, they remain substantially influential.

The first part, that candidates and their stated issue preferences carried the day against a presumed GOP onslaught, conceivably could apply only in a limited number of circumstances.
For one thing, in terms of overall performance – 144 legislative spots – reviewing all non-black majority districts (all won by Democrats), Republicans bested Democrats in 14 of the 25 where the two parties competed. Not that the Democrats competed well overall; in these districts where either all Democrats or all Republicans ran or where one of these parties had a candidate unopposed, Republicans held an astounding 67-9 edge.

So keep in mind, in essence, that these leaders were crowing about an inter-party performance where they lost 56 percent of the competitive races, setting aside the monstrous drubbing they received in noncompetitive ones. Even including the black majority districts (two had only no party opponents), Republicans still plastered Democrats 67-47 in all noncompetitive contests. To argue this even constitutes a moral victory takes some substantial suspension of disbelief.

But setting all of this aside and conceding that winning 11 of 25 competitive districts is an accomplishment, the leaders’ analysis largely is selective if not absolutely mistaken if they assume candidate image and their messages largely dictated the outcome. In fact, the most significant determinant, given the huge disparities involved in many cases, was fundraising ability and funding decisions.

Reviewing the 14 contests where both parties made significant investments, either by the candidates of at least one of the parties or by party committees, in half each one party’s candidates outraised the other, but, when throwing committee in-kind expenditures, Democrats held a 9-5 advantage. Even more significantly, combining candidate money raised and committee in-kind expenditures, Democrats outpaced Republicans by an incredible $1.753 million to $988,000 in these races through October.

Thus, another legislative Democrat, state Rep, Sam Jones, flat out lies when he asserts, “They had $4 million. We had $400,000.” The former figure to which he refers might encompass the amount of money spent by Gov. Bobby Jindal, some of which he dispersed to favored candidates – both Republicans and Democrats (and it appears at least four of the latter turned right back around and donated to other Democrats or to party committees) – but he is being disingenuous to suggest that was all Democrats spent on legislative contests. In fact, in October alone (November figures through the runoff election are yet to be reported), their party committees donated to or spent on behalf of their legislative candidates nearly $1.1 million – with over half of that going directly on behalf of the 14 competitive contests.

By contrast, Republican party committees spent about $1.5 million during the same period, but because their spending was scattered over a much wider range of candidates, including those for non-legislative contests, they put in much relatively much less to these contests, less than half of what Democrats did. Perhaps more than anything else, this disparity along with free-spending candidates explains why Democrats won 10 of them.

Simply, the reason Democrats did not do disastrously was they raised and spent as much, if not more money (we won’t know for sure until the next batch of reports come out) than Republicans and targeted it much better than the GOP. They were given an opening and they took it, but as much of the result is the fault of the Republicans’ tactical errors. It’s not because, as Leach dreams, “because the incumbents stood up for Democratic values.”

Obviously, Leach understood none of this, and reiterated this lack of understanding when he singled out the efforts of incoming state Reps.-elect Stephen Ortego and Gene Reynolds. As candidates, they obviously had potential to win, but what put them over the finish line was, when party in-kind contributions were included, through October more resources to draw upon than their GOP opponents. (Nor does Leach seem to have a clue about education in the state, when he said Reynolds was “well versed in problems facing public education – and I'm not talking about charter schools, I'm talking about public education,” idiotically not seeming to know that all charter schools are public schools with most of them being run by nonprofit entities.)

At least LaFleur seemed to have some clue about what the party needed in order to do any better in future elections, by “electing reasonable people to office,” who “bring solutions to the table, not just philosophy.” While LaFleur’s voting record over the last four years in fact has made him one of the least reasonable of folks in the Legislature (a Louisiana Legislative Log voting score averaging 33, meaning a solid liberal/populist rating although he has voted actually more conservative/reform in the past two years), if he’s making the point that Democrats have to shed liberalism and populism, he’s on track.

To modify a famous phrase uttered by a favorite son of Louisiana Democrats, and mentioned many times in different ways in this space as it analyzed the decline of them, it’s the ideology, stupid. Often a laggard, Louisiana has caught up the rest of the country whose majority has come to understand the bankruptcy of liberalism when they clearly can see who and where its practitioners are. The state’s political culture obscured that longer than most elsewhere, but Louisiana’s majority, even more right of center than the American public, has dispelled that fog.

Whether that modification will happen is another matter. Leach and Jones hope against hope that Republicans, who command solid majorities in both chambers, will have to work with Democrats to get much done. Stay tuned to this space over the coming months to see just how that dream turns into a nightmare. Unless Louisiana Democrats decide to moderate where at least they can persuade a majority at least some of the time that their worldview does in fact reflect the reality of the human condition, they better get ready in the Legislature to have little influence for a long time.

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