We Don’t Really Have A Race Yet For Secretary Of State, But We Do Have Some Early Impressions…

…that we can form about how this thing will shake out. Because while the Secretary of State position is mostly ministerial and there are practically zero issues affecting the performance of that job which any of the voters would care much about, it’s still going to be a rather interesting race.

To date, the biggest development in the race is state Rep. Julie Stokes’ entry in it. Not that Stokes is a particularly heavy hitter; she’s managed to do a good job of building name recognition and making herself known as someone in the legislature aiming to move up and run for a bigger office, but that doesn’t mean she’s made herself particularly electable. Stokes’ entry into the race is significant because she has a campaign war chest of just under $200,000 and she’s got some very good political consultants in Jason Hebert and Scott Hobbs of The Political Firm on board with her campaign.

What she doesn’t seem to have is a lot of support. Last week, Baton Rouge-based pollster John Couvillon put out an early-bird poll on the race which shows, among other things, that Republican voters really don’t want to vote for Stokes. Here’s a snapshot from Couvillon’s poll…

The fact that Mary Werner announced she isn’t running means Stokes is your last-place finisher in Couvillon’s poll. That isn’t necessarily a product of name recognition, either – it’s not in evidence that A.G. Crowe, who was a state senator from Slidell for a dozen years before being termed out in 2015, is better known statewide than Stokes is. Stokes, after all, was going to run for Treasurer last year but didn’t because she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was something which received a lot of media attention.

And people who know who Stokes is also know that she’s said Louisiana has a revenue problem rather than a spending problem, which was not a particularly politic thing to say and certainly not a majority opinion among the state’s voters.

What’s interesting about the poll, though, is it’s not a sure thing anybody other than Stokes and the Democrat frontrunner Renee Free, who seems fated to make the runoff, likely in first place, and then top out at 42-45 percent from there, are actually running. Crowe and state Rep. Paul Hollis have certainly made noises to that effect, and both have been making calls to line up support. One wonders if two St. Tammany Parish lawmakers won’t split up their voting base and cancel each other out, though.

It’s clear that if Angele Davis, the Republican frontrunner in Couvillon’s poll and a close third-place finisher in last year’s special election for Treasurer (Davis ended up with 22 percent; John Schroder, who made the runoff and ultimately won comfortably against Democrat Derrick Edwards, garnered 24 percent), entered the race she would be a lot more formidable candidate than Stokes. Most of the state’s Republican insiders like Davis; she served as the Commissioner of Administration in the first term of the Jindal Administration and was generally received as a competent and honest public servant. There is something of a bad odor surrounding Jindal’s team in some quarters, and that may have contributed to Scott Angelle’s failure to launch either as a gubernatorial candidate in 2015 or a Congressional candidate the following year, but it hasn’t stopped Garret Graves from doing quite well as a congressman.

So far, though, Davis hasn’t done anything to validate rumors that she might run.

There are a few other names being thrown around for the race on the GOP side. The guess here is that if Davis isn’t in, there will be someone new jumping in as a full-spectrum conservative and you’ll start to see a consolidation of support for that candidate. The insiders we’ve talked to have been pretty clear along the lines that they’re for Anybody But Stokes, because they think she’d use the Secretary of State job as a springboard for a gubernatorial run and that’s considered a disaster by folks who think she’s as RINO as can be.

Stokes has done little to dispel that thinking, either. After all, here was video from the House floor when Rep. Alan Seabaugh filibustered a half-billion dollar tax increase in the final moments of the last legislative session…

That came following Stokes being tabbed by AFP Louisiana as one of its infamous Takers’ Dozen, a list of tax-raising Republican legislators. And that was about the same time as Sen. John Kennedy’s appearance on the Moon Griffon radio show in which Kennedy suggested Stokes ought to just switch parties to Democrat and be honest about it.

The interest in insuring Stokes doesn’t win is so strong that there’s a rumor Free is in the race specifically to block her chances of victory. Free, after all, works as the head of the Consumer Protection office under Attorney General Jeff Landry – and Landry is absolutely a critic of Stokes’. The rumor mill has it Landry is putting Free into the race to eat up votes from Democrat-leaning women who might otherwise support Stokes, and therefore robbing her of her base vote. The other rumor, namely that Gov. John Bel Edwards is supposedly discouraging Democrats like Rep. Walt Leger from running so that Stokes, who’s been one of the most cooperative Republicans with Edwards, would have a shot at attracting Democrat votes, would make the Landry-Free connection all the more intriguing. Remember that Landry is the chairman of the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority (formerly LCRM), and he’s on a mission to get more conservatives elected to legislative and statewide positions. Which would conceivably involve doing things to hinder the prospects of a Julie Stokes from winning races like this one.

But we don’t have any confirmation of any of that. It’s just talk around the political watercooler.

Again, there isn’t really anything voters would be able to use to separate candidates for Secretary of State one way or the other. It’s a ministerial job overseeing elections and business filings; so long as you’re satisfied the Secretary of State’s office isn’t going to let the Soros/ACORN crowd pollute the voter rolls with dead people and fictional characters, which was a real problem a decade or so ago but is less a concern nowadays, anyone relatively competent and honest will do. So this race wouldn’t generally attract a high turnout; it would be fairly similar to the virtually nonexistent voter attention given to last year’s Treasurer race but for the fact it will be decided on the same ballot as this year’s congressional elections. To date it doesn’t really look like any of those will be too heavily contested either.

But given the events at the legislature this year, it seems as though there might be a conservative wave building in Louisiana which will fully reach the shore in 2019. It might well be that the Secretary of State race is a decent early test case for that trend.

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