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Lack of GOP interest in Sixth CD should not worry party

Just more than a year out for election to the U.S. House, what one inside-the-Beltway publication called a “safe” Republican seat in Louisiana has attracted surprisingly little interest from putative GOP candidates – which doesn’t mean a quality Republican may not get elected.

As far as announced intentions, only three people have expressed interest in running for the Sixth Congressional District spot, centered around Baton Rouge. Two Republicans, first term Baton Rouge Metropolitan Councilman Ryan Heck and businessman Paul Dietzel, and Democrat real estate broker Richard Dean Lieberman have declared such in intention. Incumbent Rep. Bill Cassidy is running for the U.S. Senate.

Between the announced Republicans, they hardly have any elective experience. A couple of others who currently sit in the state Senate had expressed interest, but one recanted quickly and another seems poised to do so. State Sen. Norby Chabert remains interested, but being from the southern end of the district a distance from Baton Rouge puts as many obstacles to his candidacy as the benefits from his less-than-a-full term tenure in his current position would bring him.

Other higher-profile GOP names have been mentioned by pundits and operatives. Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member and current Pres. Chas Roemer has shown he can win in a district roughly aligned to the Sixth against highly-organized elements opposing beneficial education reform. Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle won impressively in a district larger than the Sixth, and has held prominent positions in state government.

But Roemer has emerged as a divisive figure because of the reforms he has championed that ran very much against the ethos that made Louisiana a laughingstock in education ignited those vested in the old ways, meaning he could defeat any Democrat in this kind of contest but may not be able to get past another Republican. Angelle may face a similar problem because of recent decisions made as a PSC member that appeared decidedly pro-corporate welfare and to subsidize liberal Astroturf interests at the expense of ratepayers. As a result, both may weigh carefully whether to make a bid.

The most interesting speculation surrounds Family Research Council Pres. Tony Perkins, who says some activists have encouraged him to run. A former state representative from the area, over a decade ago he ran for Senate and garnered 9 percent of the vote. But for the last several years he has worked in Washington (even as he maintained a residence in the area and was appointed to two state boards) and has been perceived as one of the nation’s foremost spokesmen for conservative social values. This lack of political interaction in the district and narrowness in policy focus that may have typecast him could make it hard for him to find adequate support and to broaden his audience enough to win.

That apparently inquiries have been made about Perkins indicates the present two GOP asserted candidates don’t seem to be lighting the fires among Republican activists and donors. This is not to say that they wouldn’t be good in office, nor that any of the other names tossed into speculation wouldn’t be either. It’s just that running for office is a strategic and investing decision for both activists and donors, much less the candidates themselves. Time and money must be dedicated, and individuals contemplating devoting these resources to a quest want to feel they have someone to back that not only reflects their issue preferences, but who also seems to be a quality candidate that can win.

At this point, quality seems to be the bigger question than ideological competence among alleged and genuine candidates. One might think that given the district is based around the never center of state government, thoroughly dominated by Republicans, that surely one or more solid and uncontroversial conservatives with a good campaigning record would have emerged by now to contest the position. That has yet to be the case, and it may remain the case.

Which doesn’t mean that from a slew of presumably lesser lights that quality cannot emerge. Five years ago several bigger names passed on running in the Fourth District anchored by Shreveport, producing among Republicans three candidates, one with no experience in government, one who had served on a state board, and one who had served a single term as a coroner of a rural parish. In part the lack of interest may have been as a result of a rare competitive Democrat that the Sixth District seems not to have at this point. But in the end, the one with elective experience, John Fleming, won and continues to win reelection easily and governs as a staunch conservative. (And one of his opponents now serves in the state House, state Rep. Jeff Thompson.)

Regardless of how candidacies sort out, getting a consistent conservative Republican with every chance of staying for awhile seems the most likely outcome for this race.

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