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Without agenda change, Democrats only dreaming

For Christmas, Louisiana Democrats may have wished for more partisan success, but instead of that present in the new year they will more likely get a lump of coal.

This year saw them break a seven-year drought in winning any statewide (including Electoral College) election and now, with sugar plums dancing in their heads, they dare dream of more. If their behavior stays the same, reality should turn out differently.

Even they admit it took fortuitous circumstances to have Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards triumph, and that they could not win anything else – or emerge victorious in grand total of just four statewide elections out of the last 30 since 2003 – underscores the large element of chance involved. Some of it they can control, by finding candidates like Edwards who can pretend conservatism on enough issues and also like him who can tap into the eroding populist sentiments of the state’s political culture.

But the crucial necessity that gives them any chance of victory – so long as they refuse to migrate their issue preferences from the hard left towards the center – requires self-destruction from the Republicans. The sole lesson from the recent governor’s race is that for them to win not only must the GOP’s strongest candidate, in that contest Sen. David Vitter, have something like a “serious sin” in his background, but that this candidate also must have alienated many Republican elites willing to disown him to the point of cutting off their noses to spite their faces in allowing a liberal Democrat to win. Generally, you have a better chance of finding a unicorn than to get such a favorable confluence of events.

Properly understood, this context aptly makes Democrats’ thoughts of capturing the Senate seat that Vitter will leave open next year as fantasy. Not only do they have a structural disadvantage of a Senate electorate more titled towards GOP candidates than those who vote in governors’ contests, but also every serious Republican that runs will not have some kind of serious sin in the background and at the very least party elites respect, if not like, each of them.

Further, issue preferences aligned in the favor of Republicans in state contests become absurdly so in federal ones. On social and spending issues, Edwards could hide behind Louisiana Democrats, because they effectively have had no state policy-making power for eight years, in not having to deal with the extreme leftism of national Democrats, and in state elections foreign policy matters were moot. Any Democrat running for the Senate cannot avoid linking to and having to answer for the sins of the national party’s extremist agenda, some of which continues to redound from the White House.

Republicans should batten down the hatches for an intense battle to see who survives into the runoff, as several quality candidates either have announced or have committed to running for the post. However, it defies reality to think that they would engage in the same behavior as did the two major Republicans defeated in the gubernatorial general election that relentlessly criticized on a personal level Vitter and then refused to support him in the runoff, if not endorse Democrat Edwards (with all of the big names already jockeying for the Senate job on the GOP side, a lone Democrat likely would make it into an inevitable runoff). Spirited competition, as opposed to the destructive one witnessed in the governor’s race, will leave a quality GOP runoff survivor relatively unscathed and a subsequent easy winner.

As Louisiana’s electorate continues to mature from one overly enthralled with politicians’ personalities and a group-based distributive politics to one whose increased access to information and rising intellectual sophistication leads to more ideological thinking, Democrat elites’ persistence in hewing hard left ideologically condemns them to minority party status for the foreseeable future. Fluke elections don’t change the fact. Instead of hoping that lightning strikes more than once, moderating their agenda stands a far better chance of winning meaningful elections more often.

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