That Louisiana Democrats moved to endorse state Rep. John Bel Edwards this past weekend at the quarterly meeting of their state central committee connotes more a defensive than offensive posture that illustrates the increasing weakness of the party.
Edwards has worked hard to position himself as the only quality candidate of this party for this office, and it paid off by this endorsement that, to say the least, by historical standards is unusual. State Democrats didn’t even bother to endorse candidates in the prior two contests, both won commandingly by Gov. Bobby Jindal, and prior to that endorsements would come only after the general election went into a runoff. Even going back almost a quarter of a century with endorsements prior to that on the electoral calendar, of Prisoner #03128-095, these did not occur this early in it.
That’s because they know Edwards is a longshot at best to win against three strong Republican candidates. The previous gubernatorial endorsement they made, in 2003, of Louisianans registered to vote, 57 percent of them identified as Democrats, while 48 percent of whites did so, making the party’s composition 56 percent white. Now they comprise less than 47 percent of the electorate, just 32 percent of whites, and the party has a black majority at 53 percent.
This explains why an ongoing search has occurred among some in the party to find a quality black candidate to run; so far, unsuccessfully. These elements already may have thrown in the towel as far as winning the office but do not concede to have a white liberal as their only choice in order to accomplish several objectives, all related to black supremacy within the party: a black candidate provding symbolic representation of their power in the party (only former Reps. Cleo Fields and Prisoner #72121-083 have made it to a runoff among black Democrats for governor, the latter most recently 16 years ago), encouraging party-building with greater black representation, and serving as a leader to build black turnout to help down-ballot black candidates.
By an unprecedentedly-early endorsement of a non-incumbent, Democrat leaders want to protect the status of the guy they think not only has the best non-trivial chance of winning, but also of getting a Democrat through into a runoff, breaking the streak going back to 2003 of being unable to place a Democrat there. Although party officials claim it’s because they want access to resources such as assistance from the Democratic Governors Association, treat that explanation as a smokescreen; the DGA almost never endorses any candidate until after there is a nominee from a primary election or, in Louisiana’s case, either after qualifying closes where just one Democrat runs or if one makes it into a general election runoff. And it’s not like the party could not have waited: its bylaws permit endorsement at any regular quarterly meeting or a special meeting called for that purpose.
Interestingly, another unspoken reason has emerged for the early blessing as well: going back at least two decades, this is the first timeRepublican gubernatorial candidates have made visible efforts to campaign directly to black voters prior to the general election. Jindal in 2003 made such overtures, but only after he had secured a position in the runoff, demonstrating the restiveness of black interests in the party that chafe at now-minority whites still apparently getting preferential treatment for candidacies. Democrat activists fear that GOP candidates, even by making slight inroads into a group that normally votes over 90 percent for Democrat candidates, can peel off enough support from Edwards to deny him a runoff spot. And, naturally, if another Democrat enters, this tactic magnifies the possibility of a Democrat-less runoff.
Understand the defensive nature of this move by state Democrats. Much less trying to have one of their own win, anxiety grips them that they could get shut out of a runoff for a third time running. Besides the symbolic embarrassment of it all, having a Democrat competing at the top of the ticket in a runoff situation can help legislative and other candidates also in runoffs to pick up some votes. Endorsing early to try to mitigate fracturing demonstrates that, at a deeper level, the threat of fracturing emanates from an inherently weak position that describes today’s Louisiana’s Democrats.