SADOW: Bill Cassidy Unwittingly Fuels Closed-Primary Momentum

Louisiana’s Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy’s votes to proceed with an impeachment trial of GOP former Pres. Donald Trump and to convict will affect his political career, perhaps fatally. If so, a major contributor to the fall of Cassidy may come from a spillover effect regarding the state’s election system.

Republican elected officials, party organs, and activists almost universally have condemned Cassidy for his actions. And they appear ready to visit punishment on Cassidy through changing the method by which the state votes for federal elected officials.

After using it in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles for national elections, Louisiana abandoned a closed primary system and reverted to its current blanket primary system. Elected officials at all levels of government have revived talk of reinstituting it, at least for federal elections.

Asked about it last year, Cassidy proclaimed himself “indifferent” to going back to the future. He actually gained his first office, U.S. representative, under these rules. Now, he might not like the idea.

Since Cassidy has put a target on his back, he dramatically increased the chances of a quality Republican challenger signing up to oppose him, especially as state elected executives or (especially term-limited) legislators could have a free shot at him in 2026 without having to surrender their state offices. Ambitious GOP legislators will want to leverage their chances by putting the contest in the context of a closed primary.

In these, only registrants of a party may participate in that party’s primary, with each party sending a nominee to the general election. This makes it more likely Cassidy would lose in such a setup as ire against him almost exclusively has come from Republicans and such challengers know the GOP primary winner would be heavily favored to win in the subsequent general election.

Republicans have enough votes in the Senate to override any potential veto from Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and only fall two short in the House of Representatives. But that would become a moot point, because many Democrats would sign on as well. The large majority of both Democrat registrants in the state and elected state officials are black, yet they must sit at the back of the bus that is the state party insofar as statewide elections go, as circumstances demonstrate.

Its plenary organ, the state central committee, only twice ever has endorsed a black candidate for statewide office, regardless of whites running, and only four blacks ever had made it to a runoff for statewide office largely because white Democrats entered the contest. White Edwards and large donors, almost all white, control patronage and campaign support opportunities. Even with a black majority state central committee, the official party leader is white.

Closed primaries would alter dramatically that balance. White Democrats in the Legislature would become almost extinct, and black representation would increase. Blacks would win almost all statewide nominations and, as white Democrats have won exactly two of nearly 30 statewide contests in the last 13 years (Edwards both times), they hardly could do worse as candidates and deserve a shot instead of finding their candidacies starved for resources that lead to failure to make a runoff or inability even to get such an effort off the ground.

Enough black legislative Democrats would support closed primaries for federal elections to make an Edwards veto impossible to succeed. And now that Cassidy has thrown so much fuel on this fire to change, he may as well have written with his votes his political epitaph when closed primaries return sooner – perhaps even in this spring’s session of the Legislature – than later.

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