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Kennedy switch if for Senate run raises questions for him

One of the worst kept secrets in recent Louisiana politics became official when Treasurer John Kennedy switched from Democrat to Republican, highlighting the trend to Republican affiliation in the state and perhaps signaling Kennedy’s future intentions – and regrets for past campaign rhetoric.

As a result of the switch, the state now has the highest proportion of statewide elected officeholders since Reconstruction but the real significance of Kennedy’s move lies in the marker it may point towards his running for the Senate next year. With new closed primaries in force for that contest, Kennedy would have a difficult time challenging within the Democrat primary against two-term incumbent Mary Landrieu, and he will win reelection to his current post regardless of his label.

Thus it makes great sense for Kennedy to go for it in the GOP primary especially since, as he mentioned in his note announcing the switch, that he found his ideas of late being received more enthusiastically by Republicans than Democrats. Reviewing Kennedy’s actions and rhetoric on fiscal matters in the past two years, one would wonder why he called himself a Democrat for so long.

But Kennedy created one big problem for himself courtesy of his 2004 run for the Senate as a Democrat: figuring eventual winner Sen. David Vitter would lock up the conservative vote and former U.S. Rep. Chris John would try to portray himself as a moderate, Kennedy to some degree against type went off on a populist tangent, criticizing Pres. George W. Bush’s tax cuts, arguing for a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, voicing support for curtailing Second Amendment rights, rejecting the use of school vouchers, and welcoming the endorsement of now-indicted Rep. William Jefferson, among other campaign events that seem at odds with someone trying to win a Republican primary four years later.

Even if Kennedy eventually finds a way to explain away these aberrations, this could open him up to charges of being an unprincipled opportunist which, because GOP voters place greater emphasis ideological consistency (because the conservatism to which the majority adhere represents a worldview born of logic and reason, unlike the less-principled, more-instrumental undertone of modern liberalism embraced by Democrat activists), will work against him. If a Republican candidate with solid conservative credentials and quality were to emerge, despite Kennedy’s relative popularity he may find himself unable to win the nomination.

If he runs for Senate in 2008, how well Kennedy answers questions about his populist deviation of 2004 and who he may face in a Republican primary next year will determine whether this switch turns out to be a shrewd political move.

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