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Candidates hope outsider campaigns bag wins

Does the outsider approach to winning campaigns still have legs, after its greatest victory last year? Louisiana candidates in elections later this month hope so.

Since political newcomer Republican Pres. Donald Trump knocked off the most establishmentarian of establishment candidates (who still doesn’t understand why she lost), more people than ever running for office seem eager to embrace the outsider approach – running against a government’s elected class as a whole. As proof, high profile contests at both the state and local level in Louisiana illustrate this.

Republican treasurer candidate Angéle Davis from the gun has run a campaign stressing her congruence with Trump. A number of her communications demonstrate the linkage, where she expressly brings up Trump’s agenda and allies herself to that, despite the fact little of it directly addresses the role of treasurer. Within five seconds of her recorded voice calls, she informs listeners that she aligns herself with his ideas.

It’s a low-risk strategy since, as the treasurer’s powers provide little leverage to make good on fulfilling that agenda, she can’t really follow through in making those ideas into state government policy. Articulation of it also may distract from the fact that Davis isn’t a babe in the woods politically, having served in numerous positions in state government culminating in holding down the second most powerful job in state government, commissioner of administration, in the second half of GOP former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s first term. She’s also married to an “insider,” District Court Judge Tim Kelley.

In Jefferson Parish, Dominick Impastato doesn’t invoke Trump, but aggressively positions himself as a candidate outside of the cabal that has dominated much of parish politics for decades, related to former Sheriff Harry Lee. He seeks the 4th Parish Council District seat, against state Sen. Danny Martiny, another Republican.

Of course, Impastato can’t claim purebred outsider status since he won election to Kenner’s City Council in 2014, and he and his law firm also have given tens of thousands of dollars in donations to state and local campaigns and organizations over the years, besides his involvement in a number of civic matters, including appointments to government bodies. But his message that the parish needs fresh faces in leadership resonates strongly with Trump’s rallying cry to “drain the swamp.”

He could not have found a purer representative of the mossback nature of Jefferson politics to contrast with than Martiny, who has served in the state Legislature since 1994 and, along with local GOP allies like Sen. Pres. John Alario and interim Sheriff Joe Lopinto, overly strives to accommodate Democrats such as Gov. John Bel Edwards. Further, Martiny’s law firm does business with the Sheriff’s Department, highlighting more fully the incestuous nature of parish politics.

However, Impastato is not without his connections, most notably with Parish Pres. Mike Yenni, who comes from the closest thing to the parish’s royal family. That could prove disadvantageous as shortly after his election Yenni essentially was caught with a live boy, leading to calls for his resignation – although with Impastato among that number. Martiny has harped upon that in his campaign, while Impastato has emphasized Martiny’s parish contracts and hidebound political status.

Davis also faces more established politicians, in her case main opponents comprising current Republican state Sen. Neil Riser, around whom some Democrats have seemed to coalesce even as he retains a solid conservative base, and GOP former state Rep. John Schroder, who only recently vacated his post. Riser seems best a foil for Davis, particularly as in 2014 he got caught up in controversy when an obscure amendment he sponsored to a bill raised considerably the retirement pay of former head of state police Mike Edmonson.

Schroder won’t contrast as well with her, as he tried to position himself as a maverick in the Legislature on fiscal issues. Ironically, he became a critic of Jindal with Davis as part of the administration.

If both Davis and Impastato, running deliberately against perceived political establishments, can pull off wins, this would solidify evidence that, in Louisiana at least, the outsider appeal that led to Trump’s decisive statewide win remains a potent force.

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