SADOW: Myths And Facts About The 5th District Election

In the aftermath of Rep.-elect Vance McAllister’s surprising special election win for the Fifth Congressional District, its unanticipated nature has spawned more myth than fact about its meaning present and future. A sorting out of these statements is in order.

The result served as a personal rebuke to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Myth. The perception that the McAllister campaign and others tried to create was that Jindal worked in cahoots with former Rep. Rodney Alexander and defeated runoff candidate state Sen. Neil Riser to time Alexander’s departure with an appointment by Jindal to be Louisiana Secretary of Veterans Affairs. While Jindal never endorsed Riser, each expressed admiration for the others’ record.

The shortcoming to this is it’s unlikely that more than a trivial proportion of voters even considered this to be an issue that, frankly, only a small segment of the public was interested in and debated. Candidates who ran explicitly on this theme, trying to distinguish their own self-articulated conservatism to contrast themselves with Riser’s fared poorly in the general election, because they missed the real issue at hand, being …

The result showed an anti-political establishment bias among voters. Fact. McAllister, with no elective experience, was able to position himself as an “anti-candidate,” particularly by his picking up endorsements from local television celebrities who were able to influence voters who typically are less interested in politics. This made him the most credible antiestablishment candidate to those who are less involved in politics precisely because they feel a political establishment of elected elites, regardless of party, doesn’t really address their concerns. His campaign’s ability to mobilize these voters, as indicated by in the runoff the attraction disproportionately of nonpartisan voters and expansion upon that base by getting new voters to the polls, as analysis of aggregate data shows, proved remarkable and critical.

The result indicated rejection of Republicans and the TEA Party. Myth. Riser had the endorsement of every elected state GOP U.S. House member who made one, the House party’s fundraising arm, and of TEA Party groups. But on the basis of what McAllister articulated, he agreed with most principles of both the Republican leadership and the TEA Party. In the end, taking what he articulated on face and assuming he truly believes in it, the district elected somebody who was a moderate conservative over a staunch conservative – not unlike the representation they had under Alexander in the district with the highest proportion of registered Democrats and minorities in the state not represented by a Democrat. Which leads to the actual group that was a relevant political object in this contest …

….The result showed how the Democrats can ameliorate their decline in power. Fact. The other major reason why McAllister won was that most of the voters who have a propensity to vote Democrat stuck around for the runoff despite there being no Democrats in it, and he benefitted. By veering to the left, data analysis also shows this appeared to boost disproportionately nonwhite support of McAllister, or largely Democrats and liberals. Normally, these people would have rolled off from general election to runoff, but a large portion did not because, urged on by Democrat elites, this gave them a chance to rage against the loss of their party’s power. Because Riser was so closely attached to the GOP establishment, this made for an easy target. As one observer pointed out, the reality that Democrats increasingly must grapple with in contests in the state is that their influence is limited to trying to put into office “the Republican who angers and scares them the least.”

The result showed endorsements matter in elections. Myth. Despite the fact that Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo’s endorsement of McAllister and work by other minority-based Democrat organizations served as a dog whistle for the large minority of blacks in the district to show up and vote for him, the political science literature is pretty unambiguous in noting that endorsements for federal contests rarely have any significant impact. As for the endorsement by another defeated contender, Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, it unlikely more than a handful of people took that as an explicit reason to choose McAllister. Those who did probably did so for the same reason they had supported Holloway in the general election: he was seen as an “outsider.” Yet this does point to …

The result demonstrated anything can happen in a low-stimulus special election. Fact. If a candidate can identify a niche market and exploit it then its impact becomes magnified in this kind of election. Endorsements and having a lot of your own bucks available enable you to do this, and McAllister’s campaign had them and executed properly. By contrast, Riser’s campaign appeared to be ineffectual in pointing out McAllister’s flip-flops and the essential contradiction to his candidacy that this portrayed: he was acting just like an establishment politician by acting without principle. And this led to speculation that …

The result produced a representative open to moderation and compromise. Myth or Fact. This depends upon McAllister and whether he wants to serve more than a year in office. Those less-involved voters behind him are by and large conservative, certainly on social issues, mostly on fiscal issues. If he votes any way against that on more than rare occasions in order to placate the liberals he brought on board in the runoff, he will be quickly dispatched in 2014 by a genuine conservative candidate no matter how much money he pours into the race because the dynamics of a regular election will draw in conservative voters knowledgeable enough to know what he is.

But if he goes back on his hints of liberal policy preferences – that is, act as a politician – and votes as consistently conservatively as Riser would have, he will win over conservatives who voted against him and would give opponents of any ideology no chance to defeat him. In that case, that he will serve as long as he likes in the position becomes Fact.

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