In the first episode of the Post-Republic podcast, which streamed live at The Speakeasy on Friday, I outlined a scenario in which Republicans might be able to steal away the 2nd Congressional District by 2022 and manage a 6-0 sweep of the state’s congressional delegation.
That scenario depends heavily on Claston Bernard, the former LSU All-American and two-time Olympian track star running as a Republican in the race to succeed Cedric Richmond, running a good race and catching a runoff matchup with Karen Carter Peterson. I’ll explain it below for the benefit of those who missed the podcast.
Bernard is the most marketable of the three Republicans in the race, the other two being Sheldon Vincent, a retired postal worker from Harvey and Chelsea Ardoin, a human resources professional from New Orleans. Vincent has been a candidate before; he ran for the 2nd District in 2020 and for the Jefferson Parish School Board in 2018.
To know Claston is to like him. He’s a passionate conservative and he’s exceptionally articulate – if you haven’t picked up his book Outcast: No Room at the Table for Conservative Blacks in Black America, you should. It’s a very good read.
Louisiana has been waiting on an energetic, marketable black conservative to shake up its politics, particularly with respect to outreach to the black community. There was the Elbert Guillory experience a few years ago, but as much as we love Elbert he never really was able to generate much support at the grassroots level within the black community. Claston, whose individual story coming as he does from an immigrant background and as an LSU decathlete, might be a more effective standard bearer. But of course there shouldn’t just be one black conservative making headlines in Louisiana.
Can he win? We won’t lie – the 2nd District isn’t set up for a Republican to win it. Three-quarters of the district went for Joe Biden in November. It’s a 60-40 black-to-white district. That having been said, Joseph Cao managed to upset then-incumbent Bill Jefferson in 2008, when the latter was awaiting conviction on corruption charges. Cao didn’t last, getting knocked off by Richmond in the 2010 election, but he nevertheless proved that in the right circumstances lightning can strike in that district.
So what’s the scenario we’re shooting for?
We need Bernard to make the runoff, which if he can raise a little money should be doable. And we need him to be in it with Karen Carter Peterson. Against Troy Carter, who’s a largely inoffensive leftist Democrat voters won’t be motivated to vote against, it’s harder to get Claston to pick up crossover votes. But Peterson has a long history of incendiary statements and bad personal choices. She’s a volcano constantly erupting with victimhood and vitriol, and she’ll wear the voters out.
I’m not predicting Claston can beat her in an April runoff. But if he could get into the mid-40’s against her, and then she proceeds to give the public the bad approximation of Maxine Waters or Sheila Jackson-Lee she’s already given as chair of the Louisiana Democrat Party, it’s going to wear on the voters. Not every black Democrat in the 2nd District is a socialist who wants to stick it to white people in the suburbs, and Peterson’s lack of charisma will erode her support.
And we have redistricting coming up this summer. Tweaks will have to be made to the borders of the congressional districts, and specifically the 5th District will have to grow its geography to make up for population loss. The smart answer is to stretch the 5th District down into East Baton Rouge Parish and pull in some of North Baton Rouge. That would make the 5th District less Republican, but not enough to endanger its incumbent (who’s likely to be Julia Letlow at that point).
If the 5th District is eating into North Baton Rouge, that’ll be coming at the expense of the 2nd District, which will need to replace that population somewhere. The answer being that the 2nd will need to stretch toward the Houma-Thibodaux area.
Which would make the 2nd District a little whiter, a little more Republican and a little more populated with rabid LSU fans who’ve known Claston Bernard’s name since long before he got into politics.
And then you run a Claston Bernard in 2022 who’s a little more known, a little better funded and a little more practiced, against a Karen Carter Peterson who’s a little more disliked in a district a little friendlier to an articulate, well-liked GOP candidate.
Will it work? Hell, it’s at least worth a shot.
Regardless, it’s our position that in every race, no matter how hopeless, you always want to run the best candidate you can. In Claston Bernard we think the LAGOP has done just that. We enthusiastically support him and we hope you do, too.