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Making LA elections ideological best serves GOP

Some months ago I presented a paper that showed Louisiana Republicans had a decent chance to take over the state House in this fall elections, but I cautioned that this potential only would be realized if the party could find good candidates that campaigned adequately. Some recent media comments underscore the validity of these points seven months later, only a little more than two months before the primary elections.

Director of a political action committee formed to bring about this exact result, John Diez noted the party was being hampered by a lack of “bench” – Republicans in lower-level offices that would have the ability to step up and compete effectively in districts amenable to Republican candidates. The main reason behind this is Republican strength in the electorate has lagged translation into offices at all levels, but the reasons for this lag are what really explain the overall difficulty and presents the solution to it.

First, the electoral nonpartisan blanket primary system has retarded GOP growth because it failed to penalize voters who insisted on calling themselves Democrats who typically voted for Republican candidates. Any psychological advantage can be crucial in electoral politics, and by not preventing people who usually want to vote for Republican candidates from registering as Democrats hampers the party as it increases slightly predisposition to vote Democrat. To some degree this will be solved by the coming of closed primaries starting next year for federal offices, when those who mostly vote Republican now will find they cannot choose Republican candidates unless they register as Republicans, breaking the last bonds of loyalty they may feel to Democrat candidates at all levels.

Second, Louisiana has an immature political culture in the sense that its political discourse and evaluation of ideas and candidates is too personalistic and not ideological enough. Compared to other states, evaluation of candidates overweighs on who is the person running and underweighs on the issue preferences expressed by those candidates. This creates the potential for candidates to display a persona designed to obscure ideological leanings that are incongruent with the public policy wishes of a majority in their districts.

In Louisiana, this often is done by advertising how much “stuff” the candidate pledges to cart back from Baton Rouge, failing to inform voters that about anybody can do that and it is “stuff” bought by money wrested from the people in the first place. Or, as long-time practitioner of this tactic state Rep. Charlie DeWitt noted, constituencies that call themselves conservative also embrace and even demand the considerable benefits they receive from government “investment.”

The key to both strengthening the bench and to mature the electorate is the same: make Louisiana elections more ideological in nature. Simply, relative to both fact and logic, intellectually conservatism beats liberalism hands down. What the Louisiana GOP has to do is to help cultivate candidates who are conservatives that can express sufficiently to the electorate this fundamental ideological difference between themselves and their Democrat opponents. And by emphasizing ideology, it will attract as candidates those turned off from electoral politics in the state who to date have seen elective service as little more than a bidding war for who can deliver the most “stuff.”

In short, the GOP maximizes its ability to win seats this fall by making as ideological as possible this election and in skillfully communicating this to an electorate inexperienced in thinking in these terms. The trend change and history are on Republicans’ side, but their own actions could hinder or help things along.

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