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Commitment may give Chaisson more post-Senate options

Perhaps not coincidentally, state Rep. Walker Hines the day after annual reports were due for candidate’s campaign finance confirmed he would run for secretary of state, maybe suggesting the future direction of another, much higher profile sitting politician.

Hines, who recently switched to the Republican Party, challenges unelected incumbent Tom Schedler, calling himself a “reform candidate.” However, he faces an uphill battle because, prior to assuming the helm at State, Schedler had been a term-limited member of the Senate with good government credentials of his own. As such, his more extensive fundraising contacts and long time association with GOP not only limits support that Hines might get, but also (even though he reported raising no money in 2010) his potential to raise funds is much better than Hines’, who reported $21,390 bankrolled for his campaign at the end of 2010.

Simply, Schedler doesn’t leave Hines much financial or political oxygen for this contest, but, if following political ambition, Hines needed somewhere to go after conclusion of his term in the House as his reelection chances became dimmer, if after reapportionment he even would have much a district anything close to what he has at present. But perhaps his attempt does open up room for a more prominent legislator to serve on after term limits.

Sen. Pres. Joel Chaisson’s report shows an impressive haul of over $100,000 but even more spent in 2010, largely doled out to a number of charitable causes, fellow legislators (mostly Democrats but a couple in the GOP), and Democrat party organizations of which he is one. Despite his term-limitation, he has nearly $180,000 stashed away for “a statewide office.” In other words, this indicates he is as likely to run for higher office as to retire in the short term from politics.

Might secretary of state be his target in 2011? Heads up against Schedler, he would appear to be an underdog, given that Schedler is as experienced a politician as he and has the Republican label and reform reputation going for him, plus incumbency even if unelected. But throw Hines into the mix to divide the GOP vote and his chances improve. Then get another identified liberal into the race, like former lieutenant governor candidate Caroline Fayard and he might be better off still more.

The calculus might go as follows: Chaisson can make himself appear centrist in relation to Fayard, whose appeal during her first run was she was a reformist outsider and nonpolitician. But as a result of her try last year, the bloom came off her rose: trying again so quickly makes it hard to claim you’re not a politician, and during that campaign plenty of publicity called into question whether her issue preferences were much farther to the left than she admitted and whether unethical means were being used to buy, in essence, her way into office. This might allow him to get moderate votes he otherwise couldn’t get, still leaving him more than the liberal who would back Fayard. Hines also might be able to position himself more to the center and take votes from Schedler by the same dynamic. If Chaisson can get the 27-year-old Hines into a runoff, then he uses his superior contacts, fundraising, and experience to win.

Absent that, if Chaisson wished to extend his elected shelf life, his logical target is attorney general, having been held by Democrats until just weeks ago when incumbent Buddy Caldwell switched to the GOP. That avoids the base-splitting problem of the secretary of state’s race (all four potential and actual candidates mentioned here being from the southeast part of the state) and Chaisson by profession is a trial lawyer, but it also creates additional problems beside the obvious that he would be taking on an incumbent that is not unpopular. Caldwell won last time despite his base being in a relatively unpopulated part of the state, was a district attorney, has been intending reelection (in part explaining the switch) with the funds (some $466,000) to back it, and whatever warts he may have, so does Chaisson (such as both pushing for contingency fee contracts to be let out by the state).

So maybe Chaisson will ride off into the sunset, at least for now. But Hines’ announcement may have given him more options to keep his elected career going uninterrupted.

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