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Democrats drawing wrong lessons from Edwards win

It looks as if Louisiana Democrats may have learned the wrong lesson from the upset win last year by Gov. John Bel Edwards from the names popping up as potential Senate candidates this year.

Edwards won on a fluke. He chose to compete for a statewide office more insulated from the national politics of the Pres. Barack Obama era that unapologetically illuminate Democrats as representatives from a party well out of the mainstream, with an electorate tilted more to Democrat candidates, and a race that attracted Republican candidates who put personal ambition ahead of supporting the right agenda for the state that led them to sabotage out of spite the one among them that received the most votes.

Do not bet on that combination happening for the Senate contest. With any Democrat running for office more easily tied to the party’s extremism and an electorate more favorable to Republicans than for state offices, any Democrat to have even a ghost of a chance must have centrist views – especially in that none of the Republicans running have built up the fear and loathing many in the GOP had for Sen. David Vitter, defeated by Edwards in a runoff. It seems unlikely that they will repeat the circular firing squad of last year that left out Edwards, who as a result of that sideshow managed in enough voters’ minds to separate his very liberal voting record from an image of himself built on God and guns.

And so what Democrats, to varying degrees, seem to be offering themselves as future senators? Apparently largely oblivious to the recent Edwards experience, they range from an old populist to liberals of varying intensity to a caricature of the wacky left.

Regnant Longite Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell has explored running. The independently-wealthy Campbell is one of the few old-school populist Democrats left in any significant state office who effortlessly imagines bogeymen oppressing people on one count or another, hoping to unite the alleged aggrieved into a winning coalition that has faith in big government evening out things. But Louisiana’s electorate has matured to the point where that has become a largely unconvincing argument from the knowledge that the winners and losers created by big government more often produces help for special interests rather than for the people.

Also talked up as competitors, state Sens. Eric LaFleur and Gary Smith share common traits in having started as House members first elected in 1999, then moving to the Senate, although Smith four years after LaFleur who made the move in 2007. Both also started out more liberal and populist in the House but in the Senate moved towards the center. With a Louisiana Legislature Log voting score over the past eight years of 39, LaFleur has voted significantly more liberal than the chamber and a bit more than his partisan colleagues, while Smith’s score of 52 is considerably more moderate than his chambers’ party and just below the Senate chamber’s average over the past four years.

Although Smith seems more moderate than LaFleur, the latter may have the advantage chasing support, as he led the Democrat caucus in the House and also does now in the Senate. Both ran unopposed last fall but had fewer than $200,000 in their campaign accounts that they indirectly could manipulate to use for a Senate run, a pittance of what would make them competitive.

Then there’s previous lieutenant governor candidate Carolyn Fayard, whose political icebergs she struck in that campaign made the Titanic as it sank look seaworthy. Not only has she supported a long list of far-out liberal issues and causes, but she once ridiculously bleated that “I hate Republicans …. They are cruel and destructive. They eat their young” and became implicated in shenanigans to skirt campaign finance laws that escaped potential punishment only through creative legal technicalities. She also would have considerable sums to draw upon, being and coming from a family of super-wealthy trial lawyers

In reviewing these four, and applying the only rule of thumb Democrats can control – back as moderate a candidate as exists, because there’s nothing you can do about the Republicans running or the electorate favorable to them – Smith should receive the encouragement and resources to run. Instead, among Democrats, given LaFleur’s party leadership, Campbell’s long-standing political career and his wealth, and Fayard’s ability to throw raw meat at activists and her wealth, Smith seems the least likely around which the party would coalesce. In fact, chances are better that either Campbell and/or Fayard run than LaFleur and/or Smith and that at least one of the first pair runs regardless of whether either of the second do, making for a certain Republican victory and even an inability for a Democrat to make the general election runoff.

If so, then Louisiana Democrats completely whiffed on the lesson of Edwards’ election, thinking that because the state elected a liberal, by completely discounting the perfect storm conditions that got him there, lightning will strike again and again. In reality, their only hope at wielding any but the most trivial influence in state policy-making over a long span of time is to select moderates who actually win and then who vote as moderates. Offering up unrepentant liberals against uncontroversial conservatives guarantees a string of election losses and minority party status for the foreseeable future.

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