BAYHAM: Will The Democrats Be Saved By The Bel?

In 2011, the Louisiana Democratic Party hit rock bottom.

For the first time since the Civil War, the party failed to run a candidate for governor.

While there were people on the ballot who were registered with the Democratic Party, none of them was considered viable. Including “Niki Bird” Papazoglakis.

Of the four Democrats who paid for ballot access, special education teacher Tara Hollis was the “leading challenger” to Jindal, though she was unsuccessful in securing her party’s endorsement at a state central committee meeting held before the primary. Ms.Hollis ran second overall but 48-points behind Republican governor Bobby Jindal.

Things weren’t any better for the Democrats in the other races, failing to field candidates for Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State or Treasurer. The only other Democrats seeking statewide office that year were candidates for Commissioner of Insurance and Agriculture Commissioner, though they were more “sacrificial donkeys” than significant challengers.

And to think only six years before the Democrats held not just a majority but EVERY at-large elected state office.

And though they practically ran up the white flag in all but the state’s lone majority black congressional districts in 2012 and Barack Obama lost the state badly in the presidential race, Louisiana Democrats seem to be trying to kick back.

Their first priority is the re-election of Democratic US Senator Mary Landrieu, who has definitively signaled that she will seek a fourth term despite her state’s hostility to the current administration’s policies on energy production and almost everything else under the sun. Landrieu’s election in 2014 will either be a milestone for the party’s comeback or a millstone as the Louisiana Democratic Party sinks to an even deeper nadir.

The second round will be fought the following year in the state elections. Besides trying to erode the GOP’s legislative majorities, the Democrats will have a chance to effectively compete for the first time in a statewide election since 2010.

A recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina showed that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu would be a strong candidate for governor, tying Republican US Senator David Vitter with 44% and actually leading Republican Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne 44% to 42%. None of the aforementioned have publicly declared an intention to seek the office of governor, though all three have been considered possible candidates.

However one candidate decided to throw his hat in the ring early. State Representative John Bel Edwards, the leader of the Democratic caucus in the legislature and frequent Jindal-critic, announced his intention on a radio program.

The Amite-representative’s name was not included in the PPP poll though another Edwards was surveyed. According to the poll, former governor Edwin Edwards has a 44% negative standing and a 42% approval rating.

And while Louisiana might not be ready for another “Governor Edwards”, John Bel faces greater obstacles than his surname.

Legislators generally have a tough time winning the state’s top office. The last two to do so were named Murphy Foster and were elected almost a century apart. And the last one cut a pretty big personal check to escape obscurity.

The strongest candidate for the Democrats would be the New Orleans mayor, who handily won two statewide bids for lieutenant governor, though his sister’s political fortunes might serve as an omen of his chances in 2015. Even if Mitch is entertaining thoughts of running for governor, he or anyone in his inner circle is not going to breathe a word about it until he is past his mayoral re-election in early 2014.

Mitch is certain to not only win a second term as mayor but will likely win big as his field of opponents won’t be any stronger than what confronted Jindal in 2011.

I could easily see a scenario play out where John Bel Edwards, acting as a placeholder, assumes the role of a hatchet man for the next few years and then conveniently jump out if Mitch later decides to leap into the race for governor.

Come 2015 if the Democrats believe they have a real shot at winning the governor’s mansion, they’re going to want to line their bets/contributions behind a proven political winner, Mitch Landrieu.

But if 2014 breaks badly for the Democrats, Mitch ultimately opts to stay put in City Hall and John Bel Edwards stays in the race for governor, at least the Democrats will have made an attempt to oppose the GOP by fielding a candidate from the floor of the state House of Representatives instead of the depths of obscurity.



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