Sunday, November 16, 2003

Kingfishery and Kingcakery: Democrat Kathleen Blanco as Governor - Today is a glorious day! First off, today is the Lord's Day. Second, the weather in the Big Easy was perfect. Third, we're celebrating the LSU football team's thrashing of Alabama as the Tigers begin their homestretch run towards the National Title. Fourth, the Saints even their record to 5-5 and score a thrilling, come-from-behind overtime victory over the hapless Atlanta Falcons. Fifth, a Democrat has retaken the Louisiana Governorship, held by the GOP for the last 8 years. While all of these events make today a special day, I want to focus on the last item a bit and share with you some of my post-election analysis of Blanco's victory.

The most comprehensive coverage of the post-Election news in the Louisiana governor's race can be found in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans. For the main story of the day, click here. For another locally-originating story, check this out. Of course the national press has reported on this as well. This is how Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times reports the outcome; and this is Lee Hockstader's take on it in the Washington Post. In the Conservative Press, the Washington Times has posted this report written by Robert Buckman.

In my opinion, Katahleen Blanco's victory is a sweet win. The Conservative press has chosen to emphasize Blanco's relatively conservative positions; and even some ultra-progressive liberals (see the discussion thread at Lib-Blogger Atrios's Posting on the Blanco win) are talking about Blanco's victory as a hollow win for liberals. As a progressive liberal, I celebrate Blanco's win and I think her win bodes well for a variety of reasons.

First, one must think of Blanco's victory as a death blow to the Louisiana State GOP. After Mary Landrieu's stunning Senate win in last Fall's election cycle, the Louisiana GOP has been reeling. And with Blanco's victory over Indian-American conservative Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana State GOP has gone down for the count. Even if Blanco turns out to be nothing more than a conservative Democrat indistinguishable from any Louisiana Republican, that still does not compensate for the fact that the Louisiana GOP hasn't been able to push and sell its own candidates successfully. Furthermore, the Blanco win brings the Governorship back to the Democratic Party after 8 years of Republican stewardship. This has tons of potential positive implications for other aspects of politics as well -- for instance, the Governor's powers of appointment to Congressional Vacancies before terms are completed means that any such necessity will result no doubt in a Democratic appointment. Furthermore, Blanco's chances for moving into John Breaux or Mary Landrieu's Senate seats have just improved. While these are all good things for Democrats both statewide and nationally, Blanco's victory is good news for Democrats in other ways as well.

Let me comment on the discontent among some progressive liberals about their feelings on Blanco's relatively conservative platform. I think this discontent is misplaced for one very, very important reason. Kathleen Blanco was only catapulted over the top not by drifting to the Center, but by tilting towards the liberal Democratic base. This was a lesson Blanco learned from Mary Landrieu's campaign last fall. Let's not forget that Mary Landrieu had positioned herself in the Senate primary race as a compromiser and as someone who was able to work with President Bush on issues important to the President. She emphasized her support for Bush's tax cut program and she emphasized other points of convergence beteween her and Bush. But this approach left a lot to be desired, and Mary Landrieu was only able to mount a successful come-from-behind run-off campaign against her GOP challenger (Suzanne Haik Terrell) by abandoning this "collaborative" stance, firing her campaign leadership, and hitting back hard against the GOP establishment by firing up her liberal base. Landrieu won BECAUSE she abandoned her moderate credentials and emphasized her liberal ones. She did not win because she was a relatively conservative Southern Democrat, but rather because she refashioned herself in the run-off as an oppositional liberal. Blanco followed this same pattern. And, in fact, one could easily argue that Blanco only managed to gain the last-minute advantage because she emphasized the liberal side of her positions (i.e. in favor of abortion to protect the mother's health, social justice in health care reform, etc.) rather than trying to be GOP lite. So, the lesson to be learned is that Democrats win in Louisiana by being liberal - not by being conservative. This fact should not be lost on the Democratic nominee for the Presidential race next fall ... and I would even venture to say that Louisiana is not alone in this regard in the South. I suspect that Democrats in the South would fare better in electoral contests, the more they emphasize their liberal credentials.

The next point I'd like to make is that National GOP firepower does not work in Louisiana. Landrieu won in spite of the entire weight, force, and presence of the national GOP on behalf of her competitor in the run-off election. Louisianians don't particularly care for their politicians to be stooges to National Party leaderhsip. For this reason, Jindal was smart not to bring in national GOP firepower; but it wasn't enough to catapult him beyond only minor inroads into the traditional democratic base -- particularly the black voter base.

This leads me to another not-so-savory point about Louisiana politics. An election pitting the white woman against the minority, dark-skinned man simply does not enthuse the race-conscious and patriarchal mentality of the white conservative (republican and democrat) Bible-belt rural regions and white-flight suburbs of New Orleans. I think these folks stayed home today, as evidenced by the fact that Blanco picked up significantly more of the white vote in conservative regions than one might have expected, while retaining more than 90% of the black vote. Sad to say, but I think race conscious conservative (either Republican or Democrat) Louisianians who did go to the polls today, in all likelihood went with the white woman as the lesser of two evils. Jindal put up high numbers in the more enlightened and less race-conscious conservative white suburbs of the state's major cities, but it wasn't enough to offset the more traditional race-conscious areas of white rural Louisiana, who tipped the balance in favor of Blanco in just the vast majority of rural Parishes in the state. (See this analysis of race in the election results.) For results divided by Parish votes, see this breakdown. By my count, Blanco won 52 out of 63 Parishes; and in at least 3 or 4 of the parishes she lost, she lost by only a couple hundred votes.

I'd also like to point out that this run-off election was merely a follow-up of last month's elections in which a Democrat won the Lt. Governor's race with an outright majority in the open primary; and Democrat Charles Foti handily defeated Republican (and failed Senate candidate) Suzanne Haik Terrell for State Attorney General.

All of this bodes extremely well for liberals and for Democrats - not only in Louisiana, but nationwide. And let's also not forget that this is the last major election until next year's Presidential Race. Democrats should ride this momentum. And Bush, Rove, et. al. should take note.

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