Courtesy of a blunt instrument, Louisiana Democrats now face an existential crisis as a relevant political party.
No sooner had former congressional candidate Gary Chambers made an unexpected declaration he would take on incumbent Republican Sen. John Kennedy did he puff on a dirigible-sized doobie posted to social media and money from the woke left rained down onto his campaign. That pull of the arm came up three bars as, by his own estimation, he cleared nearly $600,000 on bicoastal campaign jaunts.
Significantly, that exceeded the entirety of his campaign last year in the special election, where he ran a strong third in a district designed to elect a minority candidate like him. Combined with this follow-through, this has become state Democrats’ worst nightmare.
Over the past 15 years, power has shifted away from Democrats stunningly swiftly. They hold only one statewide office, only even come close to controlling one elective institution (the Public Service Commission), and hold at all any leverage to affect policy only because of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
And Edwards got into office only because of a fluke, and stayed there only because of luck. Fratricide among Republicans meant Edwards, despite having one of the most liberal voting records in the Legislature, combined with a field empty of other quality – especially of black – Democrat, could have a candidacy unscathed until too late in 2015. In 2019, despite increasing taxes and government, he eked out a win on the back of the economic boon prompted by GOP Pres. Donald Trump’s tax- and regulation-cutting agenda, just before the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic short-circuited a likely Trump reelection that would have taken down Edwards as well has the state’s election calendar been different.
Louisiana Democrats enjoyed that result, and hoped for the same in 2023, because of the state’s peculiar blanket primary system. With political dynamics as they are, and especially because national Democrats continue to engage in a sprint to the left, under a genuine open or closed party primary system which produces single nominees for each party who would advance to the general election, a Republican, absent crazy circumstances, would win. No Democrat can win national office in the state unless running in a congressional district overloaded with their voters because the national party is so extremist, and partisan labels which have a strong influence over the low-information elections for statewide offices below governor give GOP candidates a big boost.
Even for the governor’s race where national factors and party identification matter less, Democrats recognize that their brand has become so damaged among the state’s majority and their bench so short that the lightning that struck in 2015 – Republicans beating themselves up to send a damaged candidate into a runoff shortly after the general election, unlike in other states with actual party primaries where much lengthier gaps between elections allow time to regroup and concentrate fire on the other major party nominee – likely won’t come in 2023. While some hope they can find a potentially electable candidate, others will settle on the least objectionable Republican, who at this point looks to be GOP Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.
Democrats recognize that Nungesser won’t support most of their agenda, but he would be more sympathetic to keeping oversized government and greater redistributive policy than would conservatives of the likes of Republicans Treas. John Schroder and Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry. Democrat elites worry about Schroder and absolutely fear Landry, the latter because even as the two don’t differ much in their degree of conservatism he brings an unabashedly ideological prism to governance that constantly would keep the left on the defensive.
The left’s game plan involves getting their Democrat or Nungesser into a runoff with either announced candidate Schroder and all-but-announced candidate Landry, figuring one would take enough from the other to let in the Democrats’ choice, and then hope either for a repeat of 2015 – which seems much less likely given the brand poisoning that has occurred since, hence the interest in the least-objectionable Nungesser who also seems certain to become a candidate – or Nungesser with Democrat support attracts just enough non-Democrats to win. Making Nungesser even more acceptable, he has voiced opposition to changing the electoral system that props up Democrats in allowing for precisely this strategy.
But the strategy works only if the woke and black voters don’t have a viable woke and/or black candidate with the resources to go around party channels and fellow-traveling special interests. If they do, that guy sucks much of the support away from a less-liberal Democrat and probably makes a runoff against a staunch conservative who proceeds to blow out that kind of candidate.
That will happen in the Senate contest, but Democrats never have expected they could defeat Kennedy. However, the cling to the hope of keeping an open governor’s office. And their nightmare is that Chambers will pull an early 1990s David Duke – leverage a failed Senate run into a runoff-grabbing gubernatorial race.
Because Chambers doesn’t care what they want and he won’t leave things alone, the establishment wants out of the limelight that drives away voters. He has his own woke agenda, squarely in line with national Democrat elites. He runs for the cause, obviously preferring to win but even if losing he believes the publicity turns into future leverage on the left’s agenda, making losing efforts worthwhile.
Louisiana Democrat elites are scared to death Chambers will have an entire 2022 to build statewide name recognition, then ease right into a gubernatorial campaign. Already he has proven he can grab a significant portion of Democrats’ votes and can draw enough resources theoretically to establish viability that would surpass the vote tally of any competitor on the left. He would prevent any other non-woke Democrat from making the runoff and would become more likely to make a runoff than Nungesser.
Thereby putting Landry or Schroder into the Governor’s Mansion, whereupon they would sign any bill ending the blanket primary system, thus ensuring future election results that would cut out the left completely from any policy-making influence for a generation. And, of course, government would start shrinking and the end of social policy experimentation would follow.
This is why Chambers’ demonstrated fundraising prowess is so consequential, signaling him as the candidate the existing Democrat power structure in the state never wanted to appear on the scene. If he parlays his Senate run into one for governor, Louisiana Democrats have a desperate 21 months ahead of them.