Qualifying for federal elections in Louisiana begins next week, and Republicans have to hope that a decision too many party elected officials and leaders realized too late does not come back to haunt them.
Four years ago the state reversed course on its decision to have closed primary elections for these offices, where only voters who are affiliated with a party (or under that version no-party voters if allowed by the party) could vote to nominate a candidate for the general election. This system promoted greater accountability and provided incentives for issue preferences of candidates rather than their personalities to be evaluated by voters. After the 2008 and 2010 elections, the blanket primary system, which actually does not include a primary but heads straight to a general election, was reinstituted.
Besides strengthening parties because of their increased value as aggregative mechanisms that could bestow the most important asset to a candidate, a nomination, closed primaries also helped parties in their ability to forward stronger general election candidates by disallowing interference by non-party elements in that process. Lack of that ability may prove decisive in at least two 2014 contests.
The GOP found a heavyweight, Rep. Bill Cassidy, to take on incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, but crashing the party is military retiree/corporate functionary Ron Maness, who never before has run for any office. All indications are Maness will pull enough support from Cassidy to throw the election into a runoff (given extant polling information, it is as unlikely for Landrieu to win without a runoff as it is for Maness to make the runoff). Also at this time there is every reason to believe, given there is little policy difference between the two, that (with Maness’ blessing as of now should it turn out this way) most of those who vote for Maness in the general election would vote for Cassidy in the runoff. A few may not, who consider the almost seven years that Cassidy would have spent total in elected office as the mark of Cain, and would sit out any election without a Maness-like competitor.
Yet a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush. Anything could happen between Nov. 4 and Dec. 6, so the earlier Maness could be closed out, the better from the perspective of Republicans who want the strongest conservative candidate that could defeat Landrieu benefitting from a favorable electoral environment that could erode the longer the campaigning lasts. A party primary prior to the general election would provide more opportunity for any ill-feelings of a losing candidate to subside and prevent the simultaneous stoking of these by another party’s candidate prior to a general election. However, it could be argued that the more-favorable dynamics of a Dec. 6 election for a Republican could negate the ill-effects of divisiveness.
For this Senate contest, therefore conducting it through a closed rather than blanket primary system probably will not make a difference in party fortunes. But it’s an entirely different matter in regards to the Fifth Congressional District contest, where embattled and disgracedRepublican Rep. Vance McAllister is trying to hang on against several conservative Republican challengers and liberal Democrat Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.
Most Republican activists are suspicious of McAllister, who breaks with the party’s conservative base on certain issues, and also they fear that, because of a scandal of marital infidelity compounded by going back for reasons of questionable sincerity on a declaration he would not run for reelection, if he were to face a quality Democrat in a runoff situation that he could lose. Thus, they do not want to see him in the race.
And if there were a closed primary, they wouldn’t have to deal with him past the primary. Polling data show that his GOP challengers pull 47 percent of the entire electorate while he gets just 27 percent at present. Given that he is likelier than any of them to have Democrat votes in his total, he certainly could not win a party primary without a runoff (the junked system provided for a runoff if the primary did not produce a candidate with an absolute majority) and it’s just as unlikely he would win the runoff if he even made it that far.
But unless one of the Republican challengers separates himself from the field, there’s a decent chance McAllister could survive into a runoff against Mayo, who is likely to make it as the only Democrat running and very likely to receive a vast majority of the black vote in the district. If so, being that in the poll only 35 percent of respondents said they would definitely vote for McAllister in a runoff, as opposed to 36 percent who said they definitely would not, with the other 29 percent saying their votes depended upon his opponent, there’s a decent chance he could lose to Mayo.
As a result, the blanket primary will have caused at least putting an unreliable conservative into a seat that is tailor-made for a solid conservative, but, worse for them, perhaps enable a liberal Democrat to win in a district such a politician has no business winning. The reversal in election procedures happened because some self-interested legislators saw that to their advantage, while others remained inattentive or unaware of the potential consequences. What Pres.Barack Obama’s favorite preacher said about America may apply to Louisiana’s Republicans: because of that choice, their chickens may come home to roost in needlessly giving away a victory.