Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The First Round of Louisiana's Last Closed Congressional Primary, Part I

While caucuses and primaries in other parts of the country have stirred if not shaken the national political establishment through denying renominations (and thus an early defeat) to a handful of US Senators and US Representatives, the results of this Saturday’s congressional primary won’t offer anything comparably newsworthy beyond the state line.

Before taking a look at some of the races of note, some trivia/points of interest:

1) This will be the last year of the closed party primary. Despite the pleadings of the leaders of the state’s major political parties, the Louisiana legislature passed and Governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill reverting the state back to the simpler and less expensive open primary.

2) The Libertarian Party will hold its first congressional primary in Louisiana as two candidates are seeking the right to serve as standard bearer in the US Senate general election, a highwater point of significance within the state for the nation’s leading “third party”.

3) And more than likely, this will mark the last time Louisiana elects seven members to the US House of Representatives, with national reapportionment trimming the state’s delegation by one for the second time in twenty years.

Now that that’s been dispensed, off to the races!

Third District Congressman Charlie Melancon faces two opponents with little name recognition and should overwhelmingly win the Democratic nomination for US Senate. Talk of a possible “spoiler” effect by conservative voters affiliated with the Democratic Party or registered independents (who can vote in the Democratic primary) to dampen Melancon’s final percentage will likely be doused by a spiked turnout in the Second District (New Orleans). Charlie Boy should rack up in the neighborhood of 80%. Anything less will further fuel his electability.

Melancon’s likely Republican opponent in the general election, incumbent US Senator David Vitter, is in no danger of being denied renomination despite having political problems, though unlike those that sank incumbent GOP congressmen in Utah, Alaska (?) and South Carolina, Vitter’s have little to do with ideological orthodoxy.

Vitter has two primary opponents though only former State Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor has significant name recognition…and that isn’t very positive. Just as Vitter’s “sins” were well circulated amongst politicos well-before they exploded in the media, so were Traylor’s “family ties”. And it didn’t take very long for the general public to be made aware of the soap opera between the ex-jurist and a state legislator.

With Vitter’s political resiliency, overtly conservative political posturing and the enormous war chest he amassed, Traylor would have been an underdog; the airing of grievances by Traylor’s deceased wife’s ex-husband and children further diminished his credibility.

The real question in the GOP US Senate primary is how many voters, particularly women, cast protest votes for the third candidate who lacks both public ID standing and TMZ details.

If Vitter runs up the score on his end in the mid-seventies range, it’ll be a sign that the base is holding and that Melancon is going to have to pull a few rabbits (or whatever) out of his hat (or wherever) to compensate for a hostile national political environment for Democrats in a state that voted heavily against Barack Obama before his administration gave the rest of America new reasons to.

Conversely, a Vitter majority less than 70% would show that it might not be smooth sailing to November. Vitter has a higher threshold to meet because the GOP primary doesn’t factor in independent voters, who were banned by the State GOP from participating in the vote despite the fact that voters not affiliated with a political party constitute a critical part of the GOP’s electoral majority and are the fastest growing affiliation in the state.

With Nick Accardo (the third Republican) an unknown and Traylor a non-entity beyond his political base in northeast Louisiana, the Republican primary will largely serve as a referendum on Vitter.

After Saturday, the junior senator will have a good idea how far he has gone from the dark days of the summer of 2007.

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