By Robert Mann
Last week, I argued that Sen. David Vitter – the undisputed leader in this year’s governor’s race – should be nervous because of our electorate’s long history of punishing frontrunners and promoting also-rans.
Now, a counterpoint to that argument: Unless the state’s Democrats acknowledge their unprecedented unpopularity, Vitter may coast to victory. If they are smart, Democrats might decide the campaign and defeat Vitter, their bete noir.
A new poll by Southern Media & Opinion Research shows Vitter with a commanding lead of 38 percent. The lone Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, trails him with 25 percent. Farther behind are Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, at 16 percent, and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, at 5 percent.
Assuming most Democratic voters will support Edwards, he appears poised to claim a runoff spot with Vitter. If you’ve paid attention to state elections over the past 10 years, you’ll understand why Vitter craves this scenario.
Let’s get to the point: A Democrat – even one as effective, honest and politically moderate as Edwards – cannot win a Louisiana statewide election. Twenty years ago, someone like Edwards would have been unbeatable. Today, however, a vote for the Amite Democrat is, for all practical purposes, a vote for Vitter.
For this column, I consulted a dozen political observers, Democratic operatives and former elected officials, none of them affiliated with Edwards’ campaign. Not one of them believes Edwards stands a chance against Vitter.
I worked 17 years for U.S. Sen. John Breaux, perhaps the most popular member of Congress from Louisiana in the past half century. No disrespect to Breaux, but I wouldn’t bet $100 that he could beat Vitter today in a head-up race for governor. This is not about the impressive political skills or moderate ideology of Edwards (or Breaux); it’s about the hard right turn the state took over the past 10 years.
After former Sen. Mary Landrieu’s crushing defeat last December, it should be evident that Louisiana is hostile territory for Democrats. Landrieu had every advantage: money, seniority, decades of campaign experience, policy gravitas and the gavel of the powerful Senate Energy Committee. None of that mattered more than the shrinking ranks of the Democratic Party (down by more than 225,000 voters) since 2004.
Evidence of the Democrats’ collapse is that their party – for the first time in more than 145 years – does not hold one statewide elected office.
Democrats must face facts. This is a GOP state, not just in national elections, but statewide contests, too.
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