My response, simply, was the party we knew as mere lads (politically speaking) has disappeared into the dustbin of change and if there is leadership on the state level capable of restoring it to some shape of its former self, that leadership has not stepped forward.
With state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s recent switch, no statewide office is held by anyone with a down-the-alphabet consonant behind the name. Republicans sit in the offices of Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Commissioner of Agriculture. To date, no Democrats have sent strong signals that a challenge is on the horizon, and that horizon looms more closely each day.
State Democratic Party Chairman Buddy Leach, perhaps unintentionally, recently hinted that his party may be having difficulty finding enough candidates with that hard-to-measure quality of electability to jump into the fray against incumbents. In a story appearing in The Advocate of Baton Rouge, Leach spoke of potential runs by members of his party.
“I’m not saying Democrats will fill a full slate but there will be some Democrats,” he said, referring to the upcoming campaigns in which Republicans will field a full stable of candidates.
For those among us who take words at their face value, it appears Leach is saying Democrats may not be able to find six candidates capable of (1) creating a buzz strong enough to attract the attention of voters, (2) placing a name before voters that is recognizable from Venice to Vivian and, most importantly, (3) raising money in amounts necessary to mount a statewide campaign.
Surely the party of Huey Long, Edwin Edwards and John Breaux must find itself somewhat red-faced that six Democratic stalwarts may not be counted as capable of kicking off a competitive campaign.
Currently, the Democrat with face and name recognition, and fund-raising capability, is Caroline Fayard, who was defeated in her run for Lt. Governor by Jay Dardenne. Another Democrat who may make a pretty good statewide candidate is state Senate President Joel Chaisson.
Fayard has already shown she can attract a statewide following and can raise plenty of money. Chaisson is not exactly a household word in all corners of the state, but he is a tireless campaigner and has the ability to create coalitions which could work in his favor.
Both Fayard and Chaisson are attorneys, and some insiders believe one of the two might try to mount a challenge to Caldwell to see if his party switch puts him in solid with Louisiana Republicans who have shown themselves to be somewhat fickle when it comes to party change.
Fayard, however, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Secretary of State job, vacated by Dardenne and currently occupied in the interim by his top aide, Tom Schedler. Schedler has announced his intention to run for the post.
Perhaps the only other Democrat who may be recognizable, Al Ater, has already told supporters he has no intention of running for anything. For the time being, Democrats looking for a rising star can hook their wagon to Fayard and wait for another to come on the scene…maybe Chaisson or some other Democrat who is unwilling to change party affiliation.
Some political prognosticators believe challenges to Republican incumbents will come from other Republicans, and are pointing at several term-limited legislators as those who could be considering statewide runs.
If that is the case, Louisiana will put on a political face reminding many of decades ago when practically every candidate in practically every field was a Democrat. Republicans were the kids at the circus watching the big acts from the cheap seats with little possibility of moving to the front row.
To my friend: Democrats in Louisiana may not exactly be synonymous with the silly unicorn, but they could be only a horn away from self-destructing into a third-party status. Many believe today’s disenchanted Democrat is tomorrow’s Independent or No Party voter, while elected officials who change are opting more for the “R.”
Plenty of folks smarter than your humble wordster believe we’re merely seeing a down cycle in the Democratic Party that has been years in the making. One acquaintance said the arrogance of power has much to do with the decline of the party on the state scene. But, he added, a look around the state at local office holders shows Republicans making significant gains in those areas also.
Louisiana isn’t alone in what seems to be a sizeable shift in party affiliation. Louisiana may, however, lead the nation in the sheer numbers switching sides, especially among its already elected officials.
Perhaps we may have been a little hasty in proclaiming Democrats akin to unicorns. By the look of things, though, it may behoove Democrats in leadership positions to look over their shoulders…something is gaining on you.
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