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SOS contest may be harbinger of GOP Louisiana takeover

With Sec. of State Al Ater signaling that he will not run to complete the office’s term, as well as plummeting poll numbers for Gov. Kathleen Blanco, there’s now not one but two statewide contests about which to speculate, the results of which well may be linked.

Ater probably was the Democrats’ best shot to hold onto the office being an incumbent of sorts, as one thing becoming clearer is that the aftermath of the hurricane disasters will disproportionately tilt the state’s electorate towards the GOP, as well as create some minor conversion from the Democrat to the Republican column. This trend may be accentuated in the New Orleans area given it has been the epicenter of the tragedy.

While much attention has been paid to the disproportionate share of Democrats fleeing the state and unlikely to return, the conversion aspect has been well underway for contests at the highest levels of political office. Sen. David Vitter’s 2004 win was just the latest in a trend towards the GOP, which occupied the Governor’s mansion between 1996 and 2004 (even if by a RINO) and then who barely lost it to a Democrat who kept trying to sound like a Republican during the campaign against a candidate who lost because of the prejudices of Democrats, particularly from northern Louisiana. (Of course, Pres. George W. Bush carried the state healthily twice.)

This means that if only one or two higher-profile Republican candidates enter the contest, one is very likely to make the general election runoff and then subsequently win. By contrast, names being bandied about on the Democrat side to date have less-than-stellar chances. Marjorie McKeithen may have the legacy, but she doesn’t hold any elective office as a base and is largely unknown outside of Baton Rouge – it’s been a long time since John McKeithen stomped around north Louisiana so that name has little currency among the Republicans and DINOs she’ll need there. And any New Orleans-based politician who in August might have been competitive just from having the Orleans area as a base no longer has that strength.

Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower might have been a potential quality candidate but his tenure as mayor has been so divisive that he has fragmented any potential northwest Louisiana base from which to grow. In short, any quality candidate with an “R” next to his name has a better shot that any Democrat yet speculated to run.

Naturally, the good old boys and girls are going to fight the Republican trend in the state tooth-and-nail to delay the payoff to the GOP as early as 2007. The race to complete the Secretary of State’s term may end up as a referendum on Blanco and the Democrats controlling the state as well, and may presage the governor’s race outcome.

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