Here’s some great news for the Louisiana Democratic Party: state Republicans are virtually guaranteed to lose a seat in Congress after the November elections.
Sure, that’s only because the state is losing an overall seat because of a lack of population gains in Louisiana. But Democrats have to look somewhere to maintain a glass-is-half-full mentality in a state that keeps blushing a deeper shade of red.
Every elected state government official is Republican and only two of the state’s nine members of the congressional delegation are Democrats.
In light of these diminishing returns, a semi-coup occurred last week when New Orleans state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson ousted Lake Charles’ Claude “Buddy” Leach to become the new chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
The change was seemingly made to insert more youth, energy and progressivism into the party, even if there is little room for optimism for them in the immediate future. The independently wealthy Leach, 78, was financing some of the party’s operations just to keep things afloat.
Pearson Cross, chairman of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s political science department, said the change represents a symbolic shift as well as some new potential for the long-term, if not near, future. “Not in 2012, maybe not even in 2014,” Cross said when asked when Louisiana Democrats could start hoping for gains.
“But I think it means something that they’ve gone and selected an African-American senator and woman,” Cross said. “So I think this is a historic moment.”
Peterson, 42, is the first female head of the party.
However, that symbolism also is indicative of the party’s major losses.
“Certainly, the parties are becoming more and more divided by race in Louisiana, particularly because there are fewer white Democrats,” Cross said.
The Democratic focus must zero in on finding new ways to connect with voters, committing to the grass-roots grunt work and developing issues that will resonate with constituents, he said.
Although Peterson has been known to rankle colleagues at times, she is widely considered an intelligent and tough politician who does not back down in a debate. She also was President Barack Obama’s point person in Louisiana for his 2008 campaign.
Seemingly off to a hectic start, Peterson did not respond to at least seven requests for comment, messages left at her district office, the state Senate, the Louisiana Democratic Party and her email this past week.
But Peterson has expressed a commitment to find multiple Democrats to challenge incumbent Republicans in the U.S. House.
Cross said that will prove particularly difficult because the districts were made more conservative during the state’s last round of redistricting, except for the one New Orleans-based seat, because of the influence of Gov. Bobby Jindal and Republican legislators.
But Peterson at the very least wants to find candidates in the new 3rd congressional district that is expected to force two incumbent Republican U.S. representatives — Charles Boustany, of Lafayette; and Jeff Landry, of New Iberia — to run against each other and in the 4th district in northwestern Louisiana.
While no one has announced in the 3rd district, Democratic Haynesville schoolteacher Tara Hollis said she is exploring a challenge against U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden.
Hollis came out of nowhere last year to finish second with 18 percent of the vote in last year’s anticlimactic effort to challenge Jindal. The Louisiana Democratic Party never fielded a well-financed candidate against the governor.
Hollis also recently launched an “Our State of Affairs” radio show in northern Louisiana.
She called Fleming “out of touch” with his constituents. “He just seems to vote with his party, and I don’t think he’s represented the people well,” she said.
Regardless, Hollis would have to start fundraising virtually from scratch against an incumbent with more than $750,000 in campaign cash on hand who also happens to be an independently wealthy entrepreneur and doctor.
“I’m by no means eager to jump into a race I have no chance to win,” Hollis said, adding that she will assess polling data and decide soon.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is email@example.com.
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