In Louisiana, congressional districts come open only every few years, which present the best opportunity for a party takeover without an incumbent running. And Abraham’s Fifth District has perhaps the best potential, as currently drawn, for a Democrat other than the majority-minority Second. While it slightly trails the Fourth in proportion of registered black voters, it has a higher proportion of Democrats and lower proportion of Republicans than any other in the state except for the Second.
But a Democrat won’t win, as recent voting history indicates, with GOP candidates at all levels outdistancing Democrats no less than 15 points. Despite that, Democrats desperately need to make the race competitive.
It wouldn’t be, at present, despite there being just one declared Republican, Ouachita Parish Police Juror Scotty Robinson. With the best shot for the seat in a generation for area Republicans, they’ll come of the woodwork contesting it. This means it will go to a runoff for sure.
Except, as is, that overtime race won’t feature a Democrat. There’s one Democrat running as an independent who has worked as a cook and raps in his spare time. There’s another Democrat who proudly waves the lesbian/bisexual/gay/transgender flag. And still another who prattles on about social justice. None had raised any money as of the end of last year.
It’s not great when all Louisiana Democrats can do in statewide or congressional contests is run candidates they know will lose, with the recent exception of the candidate state party Chairwoman state Sen. Karen Peterson tried to discourage from running, Gov. John Bel Edwards. Worse is when these candidates don’t run competitively, although recently this has happened mostly in cases challenging GOP incumbents. But worst of all is when the party can’t even field a competitive candidate for an open seat.
In any other state, where state political parties actually have relevance and power, Peterson and her entire leadership team would have been run out of town by the state central committee for the performances it has put in statewide over the past several years, including not getting behind Edwards until late in the game in 2015 and acting as just an afterthought to his campaign in 2019. But with such meaningless state parties in Louisiana, it’s not worth the bother.
Still, a competitive Democrat could help the party in several ways, none the least that lightning could strike and give it a win. Only a competitive Democrat could make the runoff; then, what if the Republican before the runoff goes all Vance McAllister and opens the door?
Even discounting this farfetched scenario, Democrats also could use the contest as an intelligence-gathering operation. Next year redistricting will occur and the party will chase its dream of creating something approaching a majority-minority district to supplement the existing one. Precinct totals for a competitive Democrat could aid in the process of setting up the best possible district for the party, as well as serve as a proxy for other state contests.
Also, the area’s Public Service Commissioner, Democrat Foster Campbell, at this point appears to want another term, with that election at the same time. He has become increasingly vulnerable, and having at least one non-weakling of the party running for Congress in the eastern portion of his district only can help his chances, particularly if that candidate is black (Campbell is the last white Democrat elected to any statewide majoritarian office other than Edwards).
Finally, it simply would boost the party’s morale to have a candidate make the runoff. Its leadership needs to show they have a collective pulse, not just for recruitment efforts but also to make it seem like they should keep their jobs.
Whether Democrats can find a candidate that can make the runoff who then would receive over 40 percent of the vote (with perhaps state Sen. Katrina Jackson, a black social conservative who didn’t have to campaign much to win election last fall the ideal) will produce as much drama as which Republican will outmuscle his compatriots to become the next Fifth District Member of Congress likely for many years.