SADOW: Graves Political Exit Not Likely to Last Long

The announcement by Republican Rep. Garret Graves that he will not seek reelection might constitute a short-term setback for him, but leaves him other valuable opportunities in the future.

Graves faced an uphill battle to preserve the seat he has in the Sixth District. It was redrawn dramatically earlier this year to create two majority-minority districts in response to a Middle District federal court decision that declared the 2022 map that had kept the Sixth little changed as one of five out of six non-M/M districts likely violated the Voting Rights Act – into a form that a Western District special court panel recently declared was unconstitutional.

But that district and map on which it is part will stand for fall elections, as the U.S. Supreme Court enjoined throwing it out for now on the basis that the impending election created too little time to administer voting properly if suddenly changing the map. That transformed Graves’ district into a majority-minority district almost all of which he never has represented and which would favor a black Democrat, one of the prominent of which, state Sen. Cleo Fields, already has started campaigning to represent it.

As the Constitution requires only state, not district, residency to serve in Congress, Graves could have chosen a couple of nearby districts to contest, although in both instances this would have meant taking on another Republican. A sizable portion of his current district ended up in the Fifth District of GOP Rep. Julia Letlow, but she is a popular incumbent and a personal friend of Graves. He and Third District GOP Rep. Clay Higgins aren’t so buddy-buddy, but Higgins is wildly popular in his territory not much changed and has easily fended off other noted Republicans in his past contests. Plus, state Republican activists indicated they would not take his side in any intraparty challenge to an incumbent.

So, Graves deferred. However, by no means is his political career over, beginning with he would have a good chance to win in yet another formulation of the Sixth in 2026. That’s as the Supreme Court has signaled, particularly in a recent South Carolina case, that were Louisiana yet again to redraw its congressional map, looking something like the 2022 single M/M map, it would be upheld legally. He could sit out a term, and then contend for his old seat.

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Yet these aren’t his only options. Incumbent Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy is viewed as vulnerable after a series of decisions resonating unpopularly back home. The switch to closed primaries in time for 2026 makes his position even more precarious. Meanwhile, by desisting this year, Graves earns thanks from party activists grateful not to a have a distracting all-GOP tilt on tap, plus Graves has nearly $5 million banked in his congressional campaign account that makes him very competitive right off the bat against Cassidy.

Another direction Graves could take is vying for mayor-president of Baton Rouge this fall. A nasty intramural battle is brewing between incumbent Democrat Sharon Weston Broome and Democrat former state Rep. Ted James. The entire parish votes for this, where just under half of registered voters are white and a bit smaller proportion are Democrats. Historically, Graves has polled well among white Democrats – Broome and James are black who will win at least 90 percent of black voters – which given these demographics should prove enough to win. And, while he can’t draw directly on his federal campaign account, it can be used indirectly to support his chances and he shouldn’t have much problem raising funds directly anyway.

Don’t expect Graves to ride off into the political sunset. Multiple chances exist for him to extend his career, and if he pursues these it would be hard to bet against the only guy ever to defeat Democrat former Gov. Edwin Edwards heads-up, as he did to win the seat he now surrenders.

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What We Need Is For Garret Graves To Run For Mayor-President In Baton Rouge

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