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Graves has tough, risky choice to pursue top job

As Republican Rep. Garret Graves ponders whether to enter the Louisiana governor’s race this year, a lot of competing considerations make it a tough call.

In the race so far among major candidates, all Republicans, are state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, and Treas. John Schroder. Democrats almost assuredly will offer up a quality candidate because they can’t concede the only lever of power they have any shot at having for their own, they need a decent candidate at the top to help down ballot candidates, and they don’t want to risk allowing an insurgent to wrest party control from the white elite and its black allies who currently run it (with the recent election of Democrat Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis replacing part of that cabal a warning to them to prevent this).

All three are solid conservatives, with perhaps only Schroder willing to waver on that account. This leaves establishment Republicans – think rent seekers who want to keep their fingers in the pie of special tax breaks and taxpayer subsidies and/or who feel indifferent, if not look down on, voters driven by cultural issues – basically bereft, with Schroder their best but fairly imperfect bet for a horse to back in that lineup.

Thus, some have glommed on to Graves as a so-called “moderate” alternative despite a pretty conservative record in Congress; through his first six years, the American Conservative Union’s scorecard rates him at about 85 where 100 is considered an entirely conservative voting record. However, that metric reveals why moderates might place their faith in him.

Notably, his score steadily has decreased over the years, from nearly 100 to 76 in 2021 (2022’s computation still is in the works). Further, in 2021 of all of the GOP in Congress, he ranked just 188th out of its 263 members on that score.

Moreover, where he has deviated from conservatism typically occurs on non-fiscal issues; for example, in 2021 he cast votes to regulate excessively business on presumed workplace violence issues, to reinforce constitutionally dubious and unnecessary hate crime laws, to back unnecessary spending on green research best left to the private sector, and as part of a budget continuing resolution to retain constitutionally doubtful vaccination mandates on private business. That tendency doesn’t make him a bad fit for this crowd that articulates for generally smaller government – except when it comes to their interests – and who doesn’t want an active champion to fight the offensive the left has launched against American culture and foundational principles.

So, he likely could count on support from this bloc. And, unlike the trio in the race, this one is a freebie – he doesn’t have to surrender a current office to take a crack at it.

However, counterbalancing all of this is his indifferent chances at winning, which carry future risk. First is that while his unenthusiastic public stance on advancing conservatism on social issues might flatter him to some it will penalize him among more. As the left has intensified its war on America, an increasing proportion of the public has become activated against that, where even leftists have turned against the more radical manifestations of that offensive. Landry and Hewitt have proven records they will stand up for that segment of the electorate, and Schroder in a fashion has done the same limited to the area of government finance.

One of political history’s greatest lessons is candidates who don’t respond adequately to issue preferences get left in the dust. Only a decade or so ago when government didn’t subsidize marriages other than between a single man and a single woman, all but a few cranks believed policy about sexual differences rested solely on biological concerns, and the belief that American society was irredeemably and pervasively racist that required massive government intervention and abrogation of human rights and decency to ameliorate was a fringe movement largely confined to fevered minds in obscurant academia, back then the constellation of these issues was of minor influence in elections. That’s no longer the case, and social issues look to play the largest role they have in Louisiana state elections in a half-century or more, which will put Graves at a distinct disadvantage.

Then there’s his limited geographical base. His wheelhouse is the Baton Rouge-New Orleans corridor with an emphasis on the former, where his biggest competition will be the Democrat. But in the New Orleans area he’ll have to fight off Hewitt and Schroder, and Landry will dominate him west of Baton Rouge. And with no real credentials on social issues, he’ll make little inroads north of Interstate 10 where Landry is expected to come out on top.

Graves has a solid base from which to start but to expand it enough to win – which practically speaking means finishing ahead of all other Republicans in the general election – he has to have political organization statewide and money. His problem is that relatively speaking he has neither.

Unlike the trio, or even GOP Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser who passed on the contest in favor of attempting reelection, he doesn’t have a statewide presence; probably not even every hundredth person in north Louisiana knows of him. He’s never held any elected office in the state and worked only as a bureaucrat and staffer to elected officials (and without a college degree).  And while he had over $2.6 million on hand in his congressional campaign account near the end of last year, a good chunk of it which in cumbersome fashion could be repurposed for his use in a statewide campaign, he’ll need more to establish that presence.

Possibly a lot more. Landry, through a combination of his campaign account and allied political action committees and state Republican Party organizations appears already to have at least $7.3 million on hand. That can go a long way to drowning out any opponent on the right.

Worse, if Graves takes his shot, depletes his account and hits up a lot of donors yet loses, he has to turn around and do it all again immediately to secure his House reelection. But what might happen is a gubernatorial campaign might expose him enough to open him to a challenge from the right that might catch him short of money to counter.

Without a Democrat in the contest, Graves would have a pretty decent chance of prevailing as he would become the home for more of them than any of the trio. That gift seems unlikely, leaving Graves with a difficult decision that, depending on his choice, could have him end up anywhere from the Governor’s Mansion next year to unemployment the year after.

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