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Democrats unlikely to go Trojan Horse for SOS

The upcoming special election for Louisiana Secretary of State puts the state’s Democrats in an awkward position, yet again. Yet this time doesn’t seem right to try for the half a loaf.

With former officeholder Tom Schedler resigning over alleged personnel improprieties earlier this month, the post has become vacant. The Constitution requires an election later this year to fill out a little more than a year of the term.

My Advocate colleague Mark Ballard writes that he knows of around 20 people expressing interest in the job. That it is an open statewide seat and occurs in an election cycle when almost all state offices and many local ones do not also have elections to determine their occupants will stimulate competition. With many not having to risk their current positions perhaps a dozen potentially viable candidates therefore may declare for it.

This brings up the quandary of Democrats over the past decade or so. Simply, barring unusual circumstances, they cannot compete in a statewide contest. Thus, the question becomes whether they want to support a Republican-In-Name-Only in the hopes that such a person if winning would see eye-to-eye with them, or risk that a fully committed leftist, if not winning, would not skew voting results that could usher in a genuine conservative.

That strategy some in the party promoted for the governor’s race in 2015. But that would have backfired, as an unlikely combination of events put a die-hard liberal, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, into the governor’s mansion. And the party may have wanted to do that for the 2017 special election for treasurer, made necessary when its former occupant GOP Sen. John Kennedy made his way to Congress, through the vehicle of Republican state Rep. Julie Stokes. However, Stokes’ successful quest to put her cancer into remission prevented her from pursuing that office, and a perennial candidate who disagreed with the party on several issues entered instead.

Stokes, having acquired a reputation as too eager to grow government by repeatedly supporting Edwards’ fiscal agenda, seems willing to take a shot at this office and might serve as a Democrat stalking horse. Perhaps even more rested and ready to play that role is former state Rep. Bryan Adams, who after the election of Edwards showed a similar tendency to buck the GOP on people and issues, but finding his influence reduced in the Republican delegation as a result escaped to become a state assistant fire marshal.

But Democrat state Sen. Gary Smith also may throw his hat into this ring. Having rejected overtures to run against Kennedy in 2016, he currently is one of the two most centrist senators among Democrats (the other being state Sen. John Milkovich). Not voting at the far left of the ideological spectrum, he might provide a reason for Democrats to abjure a proxy.

The contest dynamics would favor that strategy even more. Although Democrats do disproportionately worse in turnout during congressional election years than for presidential contests, they do the worst of all for unlinked special elections, so they should have a bit better shot in 2018 than last year. Also, of all state elective offices, this one has the least ideological content to it, providing the most potential to dampen conservatives’ natural advantage. And, the office, while many of its occupants over the past century did shoot for some higher office, has no track record at all as a launching pad for successful future candidacies so, in that sense, the stakes are low for a party.

With a number of its legislators term-limited in 2019 and realizing with this special election an opportunity to extend their elective careers, likely Democrats will find at least one credible candidate to gun for the job and the party’s Trojan Horse strategy will have to wait. After all, anything can happen; just ask Edwards.

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