December 6, 2014 was a day of infamy for the Louisiana Democratic Party. It was then that they lost their last statewide elected official, Mary Landrieu.
For a party that until 2004 claimed both of Louisiana’s US Senators for over one hundred years and all state officials in 2006, the Landrieu loss represented rock bottom for Bayou State Democrats. The only way things could get worse is if the GOP were to elect a Republican mayor of New Orleans.
While the leftist social, energy and economic policies of the national party and the Obama Administration will continue to taint the brand locally (especially as the state party has embraced the national agenda rather than worked to differentiate themselves from it), the state Democrats need to figure out a way to turn things around, with the October-November gubernatorial and legislative contests being their next opportunity to stop the freefall.
In 2011, there were registered Democrats on the ballot for governor however there was not a single consensus candidate attracting the backing of voters who regularly support the party. Granted, running against Governor Bobby Jindal’s well-funded campaign and robust poll numbers was the equivalent of diving head first into a meat grinder so most prominent Democrats could be excused for taking a pass on that race.
Things have changed though in 2015. The governor’s office is open and Jindal’s poll numbers in the state are not just bad, they’re toxic. Only the BP brand might be worse off than that of the term-limited governor.
The political terrain for Democrats hasn’t been this favorable since before Katrina, though “favorable” is a relative term.
But in the aftermath of their “adoption” of Edwin Edwards’s congressional candidacy last year, the Louisiana Democratic Party made up for that bogey by borrowing a page from the Louisiana GOP’s 2014 senate race playbook lining up early behind a single candidate, State Representative John Bel Edwards of Tangipahoa Parish.
A frequent critic of Governor Jindal within the State Capitol, Edwards is not the strongest possible candidate his party could have offered in terms of name recognition, political base or campaign money.
Most Democrats were hoping that New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu would make a late entry into the race or that ex-Shaw Group CEO and former state Democratic head Jim Bernhard would finally commit his name and deep pockets into a run.
Having won two elections for lieutenant governor, Mitch polled well in early gubernatorial surveys, though the blowout reelection loss by his sister dumped a pail of ice water on the thought of a second Landrieu statewide candidacy in less than a year’s time. Bernhard had made noise in 2014 about a run for governor without follow-through and recently launched a new energy service business.
While term limited himself, Mayor Landrieu does have another political option around the corner with the 2016 US Senate race, a bid the Democrat can start preparing for now regardless of the outcome of the gubernatorial election.
Edwards had publicly thrown a few sharp elbows towards talk of a possible Mitch Landrieu gubernatorial candidacy that is unlikely to materialize. The sooner the Mitch for Governor vigil ends, the better it will be for Edwards’s efforts to further establish himself as a viable Democratic candidate.
Edwards will have to contend with three Republican rivals, US Senator David Vitter, Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner and one-time acting lieutenant governor Scott Angelle, with Vitter being the favorite due to organization, money and political track record.
And while Louisiana Democrats have a constituency that comprises of at least a third of the electorate, Edwards cannot assume that he will automatically inherit those votes. Angelle has won elections as a Democrat and as a Republican and has a geographic base in Cajun country while Dardenne is very popular in his bailiwick of Baton Rouge and can raid much of the centrist Mitch Landrieu vote in the New Orleans area.
Edwards is going to have work hard to hold together his party’s base.
That said the DSCC provided him with a big service by blessing Edwards’s candidacy early.
Not only can Edwards receive national and state party resources but most importantly it will dissuade the entry of another Democrat with stature into the gubernatorial race.
To put it simply, two Democrats in the primary translates to two Republicans in the runoff.
Failure to land a candidate in the runoff for governor would be embarrassing for Louisiana Democrats and would wreck their credibility at a time when they desperately need to demonstrate that the party can still compete in the state.