A preemptive strike by Louisiana Democrat activists appears nigh in an attempt to freeze out intraparty gubernatorial competitors, leaving most declared Republicans in the field hoping that won’t succeed.
The seeming inevitable entrance of Democrat Shawn Wilson into the governor’s race, fueled by his notice he will resign from leading Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Department of Transportation and Development in about two weeks, has as the only obvious reason behind that setting himself up to take one for the team. Any Democrat would run as a heavy underdog, but for party powerbrokers it’s as important that a quality candidate present himself than he wins.
To put it mildly, the party in Louisiana faces severe crisis. As its national level has ceaselessly careened wildly leftward, it continues to pull the state level further away from the median Louisiana voters’ issue preferences. This causes it to win fewer elections then ever at the state and, to a lesser extent, local levels. The party’s rapid loss of white registrants – its 408,344 at present or 13.7 percent of the electorate and 35 percent of all Democrats is down nearly 100,000 and 3.2 percent of all having been 40 percent of Democrats four years earlier and eight years earlier is over 180,000 fewer or a total drop of 6.9 percent and from being 44.2 percent of Democrats – makes it increasingly noncompetitive except in areas with a near-majority or greater number of black registrants, who comprise only about a third of the statewide electorate.
While the state has a personalistic streak to its political culture, or a greater tendency for voters to affiliate with individual politicians than party or ideology, that continues to loosen but more so among white than black voters. Thus, it’s important for the party to have prominent figures run across various offices to stimulate black turnout as that bloc disproportionately responds to that stimulus, whereas white voters comparatively are disproportionately drawn increasingly by partisan or ideological cues.
It’s no accident that the 2011 governor’s race was the straw that broke the party’s back at the state level, when it didn’t field a credible candidate to contest Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s reelection bid. Neck-and-neck in the state legislature in numbers at the time, Republicans there put daylight between the parties as a result of Jindal’s general election blowout win, adding eight House and nine Senate seats. Especially as black voters desire a political figure as a reason to turn out and vote for the party’s down-ballot candidates, it needs a quality candidate at the ballot’s top.
And that candidate must have a black face, not so much because nearly two-thirds of the base is black but as this deflects challenges to the white activists that by and large still control the state party, both in organizational positions and in money donated. The party’s sprint to the extremes these days most often takes the form of wokeism, or the faith that systematic racism and oppression of other identarian minorities are irredeemable features in America’s institutions and policies, a creed the white party masters shun because it indicts them and their interests. They cannot permit hijacking of the party by these elements whose numbers steadily grow, particularly for such a high-profile contest lest they revisit the disastrous results of last year’s Senate contest where their anointed (white) candidate finished behind a (black) insurgent despite the former outspending the latter considerably.
So, this requires cooptation by finding a quality black candidate allied with the party’s white powerbrokers, and Wilson fits the bill admirably. He can encourage turnout, especially among blacks, for down-ballot candidates and discourage black woke challengers, plus gives them a chance, however small, of winning.
This entrance makes for bad news for all other candidates not named Jeff Landry. With tons of momentum from favorable headlines and polling numbers and endorsements, having banked by the end of last year $5 million or more than twice his nearest competitor and $1.8 million more than all other Republicans combined, he stands best to capture the Republican base, and with Wilson grabbing base Democrats, other GOP contenders likely get squeezed out.
Their best chance involves another quality Democrat jumping in, because if that were to happen a fragmented Democrat bloc might send two Republicans to a runoff. But Wilson’s looming entrance significantly discourages that as well as any other quality GOP contender from entering. Discounting another quality Democrat declaring, the most likely October outcome for the governor’s race sends Landry and Wilson to a runoff and a month later Landry heads to the Governor’s Mansion next year.