Analysis: Louisiana Democrats running in presidentís shadow

Special to the Herald-Guide

August 01 at 10:15 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

By Jeremy Alford

If President Barack Obamaís poll numbers, and those for his health care law, havenít yet bottomed out in the Bayou State, then Democrats, accruing to pollsters and consultants, surely donít want to know what the statistical floor actually looks like.

With new threats like immigration bubbling up, and the political fantasy of impeachment lingering, the president’s popularity, or lack thereof based on polling, will continue to be among the most defining factors for Democratic candidates during the next two years of elections in Louisiana. †

A recent poll from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, found that only 39 percent of voters in Louisiana approve of the president to 56 percent who disapprove. For the Democrats to be successful in many parts of the state over the next two years, they’re going to need a large number of these voters to be willing to forgive and forget.

Among white voters in a Southern Media and Opinion Research poll, released to LaPolitics earlier this month, 80 percent are opposed to the Affordable Care Act and 70 percent want it repealed.

Moving forward, the questions become how much more Republicans can squeeze from this political stone and how much territory Democrats can maintain. Is a new president the only answer?

On the immediate horizon, no Democrat is more affected by the growing anti-Obama wave than U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is in the electoral battle of her life against Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge. The incumbent Democrat faces Cassidy on the November ballot.

Republicans have spent millions pointing out her vote on the president’s Affordable Care Act and her relationship with Obama — they argue to some degree of success, as evidenced by the magnetizing of the ratings posted by Obama and Landrieu.

In a September 2012 SMOR poll, there was a 24 point gap between their ratings. In the most recent survey, Landrieu’s negative ratings — 58 percent — are only six points behind those of the president — 64 percent.

“You can’t talk about Mary anymore without talking about Obama,” said SMOR partner Bernie Pinsonat, who does not have a client in the race. “She has got to get a good vote out of white women, but she’s not going to do that when her numbers are trending the same as Obama’s. And she’s not alone. This is exactly why it’s going to be hard for Democrats to win statewide in the near future. This has become a fire engine red state because of Obama and health care. We’re among the few states that show voters overwhelmingly wanting to repeal Obamacare.”

On the question of expanding Medicaid, which Landrieu supports, 61 percent of white voters are now in opposition, based on the SMOR poll.

This could create an interesting situation for incumbent Congressman Vance McAllister, R-Swartz, whose support of the expansion partly helped push him over the edge in last year’s 5th District special election.

He’s doubled down on the stance more recently, even though the SMOR poll shows 53 percent of his district in opposition. McAllister’s efforts to reignite the issue may have been part of a larger strategy to attract Democratic voters, but with Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat, in the race, it may not go as far as his team originally thought.

A longtime Democratic consultant said there are few options available to “D” candidates aside from riding out the anti-Obama wave.

“The solution is we need another president. He’s an anchor in this race and in this state,” the consultant said. “But I do think things are getting better for Democrats here. I think the whole Obamacare issue, which Republicans are beating to death, is at a place where people are just finally accepting it. They’re thinking, ‘It’s here. Now how can it be fixed?’ A lot of people are still crazy about it, but that passion is dissipating as many more people focus on other things. Now I’m starting to wonder if something else hurts Democrats, another issue or two that’s brewing.”Immigration and impeachment

With Obama requesting $3.7 billion to stop the flow of children crossing the southwest U.S. border, and the GOP asking for concessions in the form of tougher immigration laws, political observers in Louisiana have been wondering when and if the issue would take hold here.

It happened two weeks ago when the state Republican Party fired off a press release noting the alleged murder of a woman in Metairie by an illegal immigrant. Jason Dorť, the party’s executive director, said the “alleged murderer was previously captured by Border Patrol agents in Texas and let go as part of the Obama administration’s catch and release policy that Mary Landrieu has failed to stop.”

The Landrieu campaign did not offer a response. But like Cassidy, Landrieu is opposed to the president’s current immigration proposal.

As for the push by Republicans on and off the Hill to conduct impeachment hearings, due to the president bypassing Congress to implement policy, it’s unlikely to go anywhere politicos say, but remains a wild card issue nonetheless.

While Republicans could certainly move forward, any proceedings that don’t end with an actual impeachment would only paint the GOP as ineffective and couch the effort as a waste of time, Democratic operatives contend. Such a show may even end up being politically advantageous to Democrats. LaPolitics contacted every Republican member of the Louisiana House delegation for their take, and all expressed concern about the president’s “lack of respect for the rule of law,” as Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, put it. But none outright said they would support impeachment hearings.

As all of this plays out, Democrats around Louisiana are watching Landrieu closely, eager to see the outcome of the November and December balloting. If there’s a sliver of hope in shaking Obama’s shadow in the next two cycles, Landrieu will be the litmus test.

While the outcome will certainly help shape the 2015 race for governor, political observers are wondering if the trend will reach down deeper to the state legislative races as well. Democratic lawmakers, by hitting the fundraising circuit hosted by the state’s more successful lobbyists, often found protection in raising $90,000 or so.

But with the advent of conservative super PACs and other outside groups looking to bury Democrats, that kind of money may no longer be sufficient.

“It used to be that you would have one Republican and one Democrat leading each chamber. Now they’re both Republicans and I don’t see that changing,” said a lobbyist. “There’s no competition for Republicans in the Legislature and if that doesn’t change I can see Democrats eventually losing chairmanships as well.”†




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