Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden not only can’t win statewide office, but his decision to run for lieutenant governor also will contribute to dooming another candidate disliked by his party.
Democrat Holden confirmed long-circulated rumors that he would make a try for the office in 2015, which actually does very little in basically serving as the head of the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism (present occupant Jay Dardenne did away with the formalities and did not fill that cabinet post in favor of doing it himself). It certainly can’t hurt him, as his mayor-president term will continue through 2016.
And he assuredly will not win, barring incredible fortune. Winning statewide as a Democrat is a tough proposition, but it becomes impossible when one is a black liberal known most recently for backing to success an increase in taxes to pay for a rapid transit system plagued with mismanagement if not outright corruption, getting humiliated by defeated attempts to raise taxes for massive, if questionable in need, infrastructure projects, and whose prime economic development strategy these days is to annex unincorporated land in order to beggar potential growth competitors to Baton Rouge. Even if the office he seeks is picayunish, with its only real appeal being waiting around for the governor to leave office one way or the other, and the scant actual areas of authority of it have little to do with being a chief executive of a consolidated government (with less power than a typical mayor), a majority of Louisiana voters will turn their noses up at that record as an indicator of how he would serve in the state’s #2 office.
But his running will affect the chances of his major Republican competitors. For despite his electoral shortcomings, Holden is guaranteed to draw a third of the vote, perhaps as much as two-fifths, because the state’s small coven of white liberals will want some place to go while a huge portion of black voters will join them. This makes him a better than even money proposition to make the general election runoff, and his presence definitely favors one of the two announced GOP candidates.
That would not be state Sen. Elbert Guillory and puts him at a distinct disadvantage to former Plaquemines Parish Pres. Billy Nungesser. While neither have a record of liberalism, neither also have built political careers as anything more than moderate conservatives, so in sum if voters care about ideology relative to an office the duties of which allow little of that injected into it, they can’t find too much to distinguish the pair. Their primary distinction at this point is that Nungesser has a whole lot of resources to build upon compared to Guillory.
That would be about a $1.5 million difference, representing Nungesser’s bankroll at the end of 2013, of which he had raised a third and loaned himself the rest. That’s because at the end of the year Guillory actually had less than zero in his campaign account. Worse for him, Nungesser has some residual name recognition left over from the 2011 campaign, when he ran competitively against Dardenne even if it wasn’t the best-executed in history.
To try to counteract this resource asymmetry, Guillory hopes to draw upon the other large distinction between he and Nungesser; he’s black, Nungesser’s white. This gives him a built-in advantage with black voters given past voting behavior and would be crucial had a Democrat not run. If Guillory was forced to run a shoestring candidacy compared to what Nungesser did in 2011 (about twice what he has raised for 2015) or this contest if, as last time, there were just two candidates, then he was in a decent position to win.
However, with another black who also is a Democrat in the race who will take at least 80 percent of that black vote, that puts a big dent into Guillory’s chances. He most likely would be aced out of the runoff given the scenario as it stands.
And that added more impetus to Holden’s intent to run than any realistic chance he thinks he has of winning. Even as Louisiana Democrats are getting routed of out any meaningful existence in office at the state level, the only worse thing for them – and the national party, no doubt keeping an eye on the most disturbing aspect of this contest to its leaders – would be to have a black Republican in that office. Every black statewide-elected official out there add invalidation to the myth that Democrats by definition must represent best the interests of blacks everywhere and the very existence of these nonconformists causes some blacks to question blind allegiance to the Democrats. As long as Holden’s entry keeps Guillory from winning, even if Holden loses big in the runoff, the party will see this as more than satisfactory an outcome.
Also more important in Holden’s decision calculus than actual chances of victory is with him presenting a black face of the party, which when led by whites its leadership had a history of shunning such candidates statewide, front and center running for statewide office, this can help stimulate turnout for other contests, as it seems unlikely that a competitive black candidate will come forward for governor. That encouragement could get a few extra votes to the polls that might turn some legislative or local contests in their favor.
Of course, Holden will say all of the right things about how he intends to win, etc. Yet the reality is the move, which undoubtedly will attract the usual suspect big donors to help to accomplish these, is more about keeping at least one black Republican out of office and getting other Democrats into other offices than anything else.