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Conservative flood may ace them out of SOS

Will Louisiana’s conservative Republicans throw away the Secretary of State’s office?

Suddenly, the field for this special election in the fall seems flooded with these choices. This week, both former state Sen. A.G. Crowe and current state Rep. Rick Edmonds formally announced candidacies. Crowe compiled a solidly conservative voting record in his many years in the Legislature, and Edmonds has done likewise in his House service.

And another conservative Republican, state Rep. Paul Hollis, has indicated he will run. Of the three, he has the most experience in running statewide campaigns, having run for U.S. Senate in 2014 only to desist prior to the election.

Four candidates now have signaled officially their intention to run, with qualifying to begin in three weeks. First out of the gate was Republican state Rep. Julie Stokes, who ran for state treasurer last year but dropped out to battle successfully cancer. Democrat Renee Free, who presently works in a senior capacity in the Department of Justice headed by GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, followed.

Therein lies the problem for conservatives. Free appears committed and willing to run a serious campaign. Given that a less-serious treasurer candidate ran as a Democrat last year yet made the runoff with next to no campaigning (and embarrassing state Democrats along the way), history demonstrates she would capture most Democrats’ votes and assuredly would make the runoff but would not have enough support to defeat Republican runoff opponent.

But this doesn’t guarantee that a genuine conservative wins. While Stokes generally has voted conservatively (and her campaign website goes to great pains to attach the word “conservative” to her as often as possible), at big moments she has a history of selling out that philosophy.

Most recently, at the very end of the 2018 Second Extraordinary Session of the Legislature, she moved to reconsider a bill that would have established a 4.5 percent sales tax rate for seven years. When GOP state Rep. Alan Seabaugh acted to block that from happening before session’s end because he opposed that high of a rate, she rebuked him on the floor, blaming him for the extra time and expense to come in a third session.

That overtime likely cost taxpayers around $300,000, producing most significantly a sales tax rate of 4.45 percent – which will save taxpayers around $60 million yearly. It’ll be interesting to see when the first attack ad against Stokes appears recounting how in order to save $300,000 she wanted to hit up taxpayers up for $420 million extra over the life of the tax.

Then there’s the perception that Free may act as a Democrat spoiler. Even though she previously worked for years in a SOS job roughly at the same level as her present position, her service under Republicans there and in the AG’s office fuels speculation that she entered simply to discourage any high-profile Democrat elected officials from jumping in.

If true, if Free runs a credible campaign it won’t matter much as she’ll still sweep up Democrats – assuming another quality Democrat doesn’t enter, which seems unlikely as it probably would fragment this vote so much as to prevent any Democrat from making the runoff.

So, the powers that be within that party may tacitly support and campaign surreptitiously for Stokes, seeing her as a malleable Republican. That will score her some support, and other moderate Republicans may throw in with her as well. Still, these dynamics don’t suggest she could advance to a runoff against Free …

… unless the race swells with too many consistent conservatives. Three heavy hitters like Crowe, Edmonds, and Hollis may fragment the right side of the ledger so much as to put Free and Stokes into the runoff – Democrats’ best scenario. Even without Hollis, Crowe and Edmonds might split the vote so exactly as to allow this outcome.

This counterproductive fragmentation remains a possibility, especially if Hollis gets in, unless one of the guys can consolidate the vote on the right. Obviously, there’s no guarantee of that happening.

Unless something incredible occurs, a Republican will win this contest. The job has next to no policy content to it, and certainly nothing having to do with fiscal affairs. Further, it never has served as a successful launching pad for Congress or the Governor’s Mansion.

Still, it remains possible that an ambitious politician could use it as such. In that case, conservatives would hope that they have maximal chances to get one of their own into it.

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