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Conservatives, rest easy: no spoiler scenario

Dude, get some rest.

Recently the invaluable The Hayride’s editor Scott McKay published some musings about next year’s governor’s election. In it, he admitted that he suffered disturbed sleep over the possibility that an outsider non-conservative candidate could win that contest.

He sketched a scenario where somebody not ideologically conservative like wealthy businessman Jim Bernhard – in the past rumored as a candidate for statewide office and who briefly fronted Louisiana’s Democrats – would get in the contest as an independent, use a theme of government dysfunction (part a consequence of the state’s populist history and political culture, part a reflection of events over the past three years where Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has insisted on continuing this despite electoral and societal trends heading in the opposite direction) and declare himself the antithesis to that, dump a lot of money in the race, and find a way to win, acing out a conservative.

To buttress the claim, he argues that past underdogs of the likes of former Govs. Dave Treen, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco (a sketchy choice, as she lead in almost every poll taken of the race), and current Gov. Edwards managed to win. Additionally, he could have thrown in former Govs. Edwin Edwards and Robert Kennon, at the very least.

Whereupon the argument falls apart. Because every name on this list had some, if not extensive, political experience in elective office. Some had groomed themselves for the office many years in advance of running. The unknown candidate in McKay’s scenario would have none of that, which is crucial to win Louisiana’s top spot. It takes years of building relationships to deliver that, best done through holding some office You’d have to go all the way back to the disgraced former Gov. Dick Leche to find someone with no elective experience taking the top prize – and he had the whole Long machine behind him to do it.

There’s no machine now to do that, but perhaps that’s Scott’s point. These days, an outsider with the means to self-finance a campaign – think Pres. Donald Trump – has the environment to build a successful campaign from scratch without needing the supports of the past, because the existing system has become discredited enough along with those other supports to have people detach from them.

It’s a plausible assertion – except that Louisiana’s electoral environment differs from the country as a whole. As proof, note that just a dozen years ago the exact scenario arose in the 2007 contest, when businessman John Georges ran. (Georges now is the owner of the Baton Rouge Advocate, where I am a Sunday opinion columnist.)

Facing eventual winner former Gov. Bobby Jindal (who, with no elective experience although with plenty in state government and making explicit appeals as a conservative outsider, made the runoff against Blanco in 2003) as well as two Democrat elected officials (one having switched from the Republicans), Georges ran as someone who would make government work better, even signing on to the agenda of Blueprint Louisiana, today a largely moribund special interest group advocating state government reformation into working more efficiently with less politics. He poured in $7 million of his own money – and got a whopping 14 percent of the vote.

He could have spent $20 million of his own money in today’s dollars and barely would have finished any differently – at a level insufficient in 2019 to deny a conservative Republican the runoff even with two major such candidates in the race (and in fact this kind of candidate would steal a significant portion of votes from John Bel Edwards as a number of Democrats would consider the incumbent’s cause hopeless.) Simply, Louisiana’s personalistic political culture, particularly insofar as state contests go, hasn’t become unmoored so much from 2007 that we should expect a different outcome from the previous model.

So, my advice if you worry about this chain of events: rest easy. If Republicans field just one strong, scandal-free conservative, they win regardless of what any outsider does.

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