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Will Democrats contest or satisfice in LA CD 4?

It’s early in the year for showers to bring flowers, but not too early for elections to spring forth candidates, as a population explosion of them has come in Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District for its contesting in the fall.

Within the past month no fewer than five Republicans have announced and/or filed paperwork to organize their candidacies for the open seat. They include physician Dr. Trey Baucum, former state Sen. Elbert Guillory, Shreveport City Councilman Oliver Jenkins, lawyer Rick John, and state Rep. Mike Johnson.

Guillory perhaps has the highest profile, having recently run for lieutenant governor and of some renown as the only black Republican legislator in the state for over a century when he made the switch from Democrat a few years ago. However, he ran an underwhelming race for the state’s second spot, gathering only eight percent of the vote. Then again, he spent just around $56,000 when his opponents far more than he. This demonstrated either or both that he has a core of support, likely proportionally higher in the district than statewide, and that he did not do much to have potential donors take him seriously.

This makes the frontrunner Johnson, who has won his two elections without drawing an opponent. While these free rides into office make him an untested campaigner, it also shows tremendous background support, built chiefly on social issues. Last year, Johnson gained great publicity for offering legislation to protect individuals from discriminatory actions by government based upon beliefs about marriage, a natural outgrowth both of his constitutional law background and ties to the evangelical community.

With strong support in (particularly) northwest and southwest Louisiana for conservative social values and his history, Johnson already can count on a significant portion of votes. If able to emphasize his conservatism on economic and other issues, it will prove tough to keep him out of the runoff given this field.

Worse, from the perspective of Democrats, having one of theirs in the contest most likely would seal the win for Johnson. The district has one-third black registration, so a Democrat running would capture much of that, but only a small portion would come at Johnson’s expense with Guillory losing the largest number of them. That almost certainly would guarantee a runoff between a Democrat and Johnson, giving him the win. Democrat elites’ dislike of Guillory, whose runoff chances brighten considerably without a Democrat contesting, make unappealing as well a scenario with him and Johnson vying in a runoff.

Which is why Democrats might turn to Jenkins to stop this pair. In his six years on the City Council, he has acted the way they hope Republican politicians would in a majority Democrat/black political environment – going along with their policy preferences more often than challenging these, arguing things can be done better at the margins instead of confronting them over the size of government – an attitude that has led to the steady atrophy of Republican influence in Shreveport governance to the point the GOP has not run a credible mayoral candidate in almost two decades.

Particularly appealing as a foil to Johnson, Jenkins sponsored the city’s ill-advised “Fairness Ordinance,” with its heavy-handed approach restricting latitude regarding some commercial activity and employer-employee relationships by privileging some behavior – the opposite of the protections Johnson’s bill sought to guarantee. By his backing of the trendy ordinance, Jenkins can distinguish himself from other candidates in selling himself to Democrats.

But it would be a mistake to count out the two political newcomers in a district whose last three congressmen over the past three decades comprised of two who prior to their election never had served in elected office and one who had served a term as a coroner in a rural parish. Both Baucum and John seem capable of self-financing to some degree, and in a national political environment where candidates seen as not part of a political establishment have experienced unprecedented success, the same dynamic may turn either of them into a formidable candidate that can make an inevitable runoff.

So while Johnson may seem the most likely to make it to December’s round, at this point it’s not unrealistic to think any of the five could end up there.

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