As Republicans take further control of the political landscape, it’s fair to say Louisiana Democrats have seen better days. By Jeremy Alford
Few summed it up better than Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, who labeled last week’s election day a referendum on all things Democrat. Villere hit the Dems on practically every issue they slammed Republicans on two years ago. “Voters are not satisfied with their failed record on jobs, their ballooning of the national deficit, or their rapid increase in the size and scope of government control,” Villere says. “There is no one for the Democrats to blame but themselves.”
So. Where do things stand now? Well, there’s one U.S. senator, one congressman and one statewide elected official. That’s what Louisiana Democrats have going for themselves right now. And if you continue reading into it, the picture doesn’t get any better.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is now the only statewide Democratic official, due to last week’s victory by Lt. Gov.-elect Jay Dardenne, a Baton Rouge Republican. But Caldwell, a folksy type from the piney northern hamlet of Tullulah, is also the same Democrat who filed a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s health care plan and joined forces as of late with Gov. Bobby Jindal. In other words, Caldwell isn’t exactly leading any Democratic pep rallies.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu becomes — even more so — the banner-bearer for Louisiana Democrats, even though it’s rumored she’s pondering skipping re-election. Finally, state Rep. Cedric Richmond’s win in the 2nd Congressional District over Republican incumbent Joseph Cao allows Democrats to maintain one seat out of seven in the state’s House delegation.
Joshua Stockley, political science professor at UL Monroe, says Cao’s 2008 election will likely be an asterisk in the saga of ex-Congressman Bill Jefferson, the Democrat whose federal corruption charges gifted Cao with a surprise win. Thus, Richmond reclaiming the Big Easy doesn’t exactly make Dems feel much better. “New Orleans really doesn’t count,” Stockley says. “New Orleans is supposed to go Democratic.”
What does count is the upcoming election for secretary of state, a post Dardenne will be vacating in the coming weeks as he ascends to No. 2. It’s the next opportunity Democrats will have to shore up support. Of course, that brings to mind Dardenne’s slain opponent, Caroline Fayard of New Orleans. Even though she lost to Dardenne in the lieutenant governor’s contest by 14 points, the Democratic newbie received 64,210 more votes than Congressman Charlie Melancon, a fellow Democrat from Napoleonville who shelled out a whopping $4 million on his bid for the U.S. Senate.
“I think Caroline Fayard has a bright future in Democratic politics, even in this very conservative state. She just has to show people she’s not the southern, just-as-liberal version of (speaker of the U.S. House) Nancy Pelosi,” Stockley says. “Democrats need a big win in Louisiana right now. They need to show they have some presence here. The secretary of state’s election should end up being very competitive.”
Fayard is 32, just fours years older than Ravi Sangisetty, the Houma attorney and Democratic nominee who lost the 3rd Congressional District to Republican Jeff Landry of New Iberia last week. Like Fayard, Sangisetty is expected to stick around for a while and possibly develop into an influencer.
More immediately, Louisiana’s elected Beltway brood will need to address its lack of seniority in the House. “We have an extremely young delegation,” says Pearson Cross, a political science professor at UL Lafayette. “But there will be six Republicans in the House, which bodes well in a GOP-controlled chamber.”
Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette, who faced only token opposition, is the frontrunner to benefit the most. Cross says that’s due to Boustany’s relationship with Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who is expected to become speaker. “That in itself is a really big deal,” Cross says.
If last week’s balloting resulted in a weakened Democratic front, then it also served to build up U.S. Sen. David Vitter as arguably one of the most powerful politicians in the state, Cross says. Vitter, a Metairie Republican, bested Melancon and 10 others with 57 percent of the vote.
“Once all the dust settles from this election cycle, all the brouhaha about prostitution will be behind him. Then after another six years in office, he can probably just put it to rest,” Cross says. “Of course, there will always be people who try to make hay of it. That won’t change.” Maybe Louisiana Democrats have that going for themselves as well, for whatever it’s worth.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at
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