BAYHAM: The Contender

When young people run for office their first challenge is getting the media, donors and public to take them seriously and not as a curiosity.

Baton Rouge entrepreneur and candidate to succeed Bill Cassidy in the 6th congressional district Paul Dietzel has thus far achieved the first two objectives.

Though Dietzel lacks a geographic constituency that generally proves pivotal in these types of races, he does have the next best thing: an LSU athletics lineage.

Dietzel’s grandfather was the head coach who won LSU’s first national football championship in 1958.

Dietzel has shrewdly assembled a coalition of prominent figures behind his candidacy, including former congressmen Bob Livingston and Henson Moore. The former a potential source of significant Beltway help, the latter someone who could help Dietzel open up doors to influential figures in Baton Rouge.

Combined, their backing has given Dietzel’s candidacy credibility that would make even a seasoned politician envious.

Dietzel’s official campaign kickoff (more media event than actual announcement since he’s been an active candidate for Congress since May 2013) was remarkable, holding it in a cavernous ballroom in the Baton Rouge Renaissance Hotel.

A cramped hotel meeting room generally suffices as a campaign kickoff venue for non-incumbent candidates for Congress, as a means of saving money and face in the event few people attend.
Dietzel’s move wasn’t as risky as it seemed as he arranged for TEA Party favorite and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to share the platform, with Cain’s participation guaranteeing both the press and people.

Cain was preceded to the stage by another TEA Party darling, former Baton Rouge state representative Woody Jenkins. Though Jenkins is considered a polarizing figure, the almost US Senator possesses a strong constituency and in a field of about a half-dozen quasi-declared candidates, Jenkins’s blessing could help Dietzel punch his ticket to the second round, particularly since the post-2010 redistricting transformed the 6th district from moderate purple to conservative crimson red.

Not as notable as the figures who spoke at the Dietzel event but whose presence was just as important were the funders quietly sitting in the audience, people whose names you don’t see on yard signs but as on the campaign finance reports of major candidates.

In his speech, Dietzel alluded to Cain’s presence as being a big reason for the turnout though he might have been modest as the crowd of 200+ on hand (the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at a congressional kickoff) was enthused for the local guy.

And while Dietzel’s rollout was impressive, two aspects of the announcement that seemed a bit off: his use of a teleprompter and the dearth of parochial issue references in an address that sounded like a transcript from any given Mark Levin radio program.

Beyond its close association with the 44th president, utilizing a teleprompter at a congressional kickoff event was showy.

While US Representative is a national office, most people running for the position get elected and re-elected based upon their capacity to secure a decent return on the tax dollars their people send up to Washington and how they manage constituent services. Tip O’Neill’s adage that all politics is local is a political truth.

Advocating solutions for local issues that directly touch people go further with the electorate than grandstanding on hot-button national matters.

This is particularly important as Louisiana has scrapped its closed primary in congressional races, where running a “national” campaign paved the way for Jeff Landry’s lopsided upset over the more established Hunt Downer in 2010.

The open primary is drastically different political terrain as candidates need to create appeal beyond the party base.

Dietzel, who turns 28 in a few weeks, has nine months to develop his message, better familiarize himself with the diverse communities that comprise the district and refine his presentation. He’s already done the heavy lifting of building a ready campaign organization, giving him a big jump on the competition.

With his impressive announcement event and demonstration of support from grassroots activists and big political names, Dietzel has matured from the ranks of “novelty” entrant into a contender in the race for 6thcongressional district, if not the leading candidate.

Eight months ago Paul Dietzel was chasing credibility; nine months from now his opponents will likely find themselves chasing him.

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