Wednesday, 13 July 2011 19:54

Will Caldwell Have Competition In Attorney General Race?

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Buddy CaldwellIf there was one race that Democrats should look positively upon during the 2011 statewide elections, it's that of Attorney General. There are several factors that contribute to making this race a lot more interesting, and winnable, for dem politicos.

First, as a race that is largely guided by the choices lawyers make, the Attorney General's race is heavily influenced by the Democratic-leaning legal community. It's not to say that big-time lawyers aren't giving heartily to Republicans in Louisiana (see sop at Slabbed for more insight on this angle). However, some of the biggest fish in the money pond play in the AG's race on the Democratic side, making this a potentially well-financed race for any serious Democratic challenger with lawyer bona-fides. 

Second, Buddy Caldwell is a vulnerable incumbent. He was lustily attacked by Republicans in the 2007 run-off against Royal Alexander, but to no avail. Caldwell had already contributed to the vicious knee-capping of unpopular AG Charles Foti by continuing to gin up Foti's involvement with a botched prosecution of nursing home operators.  Caldwell's entry into the run-off assured a victory in a time when an AG could count on large Democratic majorities to come home in any contest. Caldwell thinks he saw the tide shift, but he might have jumped too soon. Like fellow switcher Norby Chabert, Caldwell was a lifelong Democrat with strong ties to old Democratic groups such as the District Attorneys' association. While alliances have shifted toward Republicans of late, Caldwell was not seen as the most dominant candidate in 2007 (rather a lucky one), and will now have to spend considerable time explaining to a virulent GOP base why he spent all but one year of his life as a Democrat. Caldwell's joining of the Affordable Care Act suit by the States might have served as the necessary red meat a year ago, but with the steam running out of that pursuit it carries slightly less weight than it might have. Furthermore, vast questions about Caldwell's motivation for that suit remain

When looking at the potential candidates, it's important to recognize that we'll have a much clearer picture as we round the first fundraising post next week. But as it stands, let's talk business:

We'll only have one tier of AG candidates for now. Announcements have been trickling out about fall races, and much is still up in the air

The Players

Senate President Joel Chaisson (D-Destrehan) - Widely circulated rumors have discussed the term-limited Chaisson is a serious contender for the Attorney General's office. He's a well-connected in the legal world and apparently well-suited to help finance any campaigns himself. As Bobby Jindal's choice as Senate President, Chaisson effectively steered the august body of the legislature through redistricting and budget chaos. His voting record is moderate, and despite the legislature's turn to the right, Chaisson walked the tight-rope between that of a business-friendly deal-maker and a steward of critical education and healthcare priorities. And he's got money in the bank:

The second most interesting thing about the financial filings was the surprising (or accidental) reveal of Senate President Joel Chaisson's intentions. Campaign filings, although required by the form, do not always contain an answer to "office sought." However, Chaisson's assertion that his fundraising was with intention to seek "statewide office" is great news for Louisiana Progressives.  Chaisson has a successsful law practice in Destrehan, and has no trouble fundraising, especially from the well-resourced network of trial lawyers. His report of $179k is not overwhelming, but it is a good start and enough to make him a serious contender against Buddy Caldwell. The current AG has a sizable $466k on hand, but also represents a year worth of fundraising. Chaisson hasn't really even gotten started, and if he were to enter the AG race, he would have no trouble raising his tally significantly. Besides just having a (D) next to his name, Chaisson actually has a fairly moderate voting record. Chaisson has straddled LABI-backing with a fairly good record on environmental and education issues. Of course, this is Louisiana, so "moderate" is a relative position. More importantly, Chaisson is well-respected by his fellow legislators, and well-connected throughout the state. 

Chaisson is the number 1 contender in this race, if he decides to get involved. 

Former Rep. Joe Cao (R-New Orleans) - Fresh off a beating in the LA-2 Congressional race by Cedric Richmond, Cao has turned his ministry toward that of Attorney General. While Cao is a lawyer who taught ethics and philosophy at Loyola, he certainly wouldn't be the most experienced litigator at the helm of the State's AG office. After a long Hamlet act over the Health Care Reform Bill (which he voted for, before he voted against), Cao weakly claimed that ghost-provisions in the ACA would have paid for abortions (of course, the Hyde Amendment already bans Federal Funds from assisting in abortions). Never mind the facts, Cao betrayed his constituents and they punished him for the Benedict Arnold performance by putting a reliable vote in the chamber.

Cao's screwed either way here: He voted for Health Care Reform, which will kill him among the wing-nuts and tea-baggers in Louisiana. Then he voted against the signature achievement of the Obama White House, which doesn't exactly endear him to Democrats who might consider him as a choice over the recent-Republican Buddy Caldwell who sued the Federal Government over the ACA.

Let's not forget that Cao also had the audacity to go work for BP as a claims administer after asking the BP heads to commit "hara kiri."  Of course, he subsequently quit this job just in time to announce he would seek the AG's office. Cao claims he was "fired," but it makes it hard to swallow considering he probably shouldn't have been working for BP in the first place.

It's hard to imagine how Cao could fundraiser among GOP circles with his track record on Heath Care Reform. And without the money, it's hard to imagine how he leaps out of his New Orleans base to statewide office.

James "Buddy" Caldwell D R-Ferriday): As described above, Buddy has several issues coming into his reelection campaign. First, of course, is his recent conversion to the GOP. He will claim he was conservative the entire time and that he sued over the Health Care law as proof. But Caldwell doesn't have much else to hang his hat on besides that fact. He was heavily supported by Democrats in 2007, and smashed Royal Alexander, the Republican candidate, heartily. Caldwell was also a target of GOP attacks, many of which were nasty in nature: 

Caldwell has some work cut out for him, but if Republican voters have no where else to go, he can't worry too much. His worst nightmare is if someone like Jeff Landry were to step into the race. Any question about that will be answered soon after Justice gives word on the Congressional map. If Landry is set to battle Boustany, and victory does not look certain, Landry might be highly encouraged to try the AG's office on. And Caldwell will be in serious trouble if that's the case.  

by Lamar Palmentel of The DailyKingfish 

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