Thursday, January 29th, 2009
COULD INDEPENDENT VOTERS
BRING DOWN SENATOR DAVID VITTER?
An ongoing battle within the ranks of the Louisiana Republican Party may well determine whether Louisiana US Sen. David Vitter receives his party's nomination for the coming 2010 senatorial election. The question for the party faithful is whether or not to allow independent voters to vote in GOP congressional primaries and runoffs. Look for the Vitter forces to strongly oppose any such movement. The issue will be brought to a head next month.
Vitter is in all-out effort to be the darling of conservatives, both nationally and in Louisiana. His reasoning is twofold. First, he wants his conservative philosophy to be the focus of the coming campaign, not personal peccadilloes thrust upon him for the past two years. As far as being accused of being too conservative for his home state, that serves Vitter’s agenda well. He feels he is playing to a favorable crowd, since Louisiana continues to be a stronger conservative Southern state. Only Alabama gave fewer votes to the new Democratic president than Louisiana. Vitter is quite willing to fight turf battles over philosophical issues in an effort to put his personal problems aside.
Secondly, Vitter is hoping to block off any potential challengers on the right. His particular concern is former Louisiana state representative Tony Perkins, who presently heads up the Family Research Council in Washington DC. Perkins ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002 as a protégé and former campaign manager of another senatorial candidate, Woody Jenkins. Perkins has built quite a conservative power base in Washington, and has become a major media spokesman for conservative family values. He has been approached by key national Republicans who feel Vitter may have an uphill fight in his reelection efforts, and some party operatives are trying to entice Perkins to come back home and take another run.
In the first few weeks of the new administration, Vitter has become the "slash and burn" loyal opposition, and has introduced a litany of conservative legislation. He was the only member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to vote against the confirmation of Hillary Clinton's nomination as Secretary of State. The vote was 16 to 1, and in the final vote on the floor of the Senate, Vitter was only one of two votes against confirmation.
Much of the legislation he has introduced in recent weeks is a rehash of previous bills pushed by Vitter. He apparently is trying to make the point that he is "the man" when it come to being the lonely, virtuous crusader on behalf of what he perceives to be solid hits on Southern values. His bills and resolutions are fairly predictable. Abortion -- he's agin’ it. Public prayer -- he's for it; stem cell research -- nope!; homeschooling –yep!; drugs -- against; death penalty -- for; illegal immigration -- against; protecting the American flag – for. This is not to belittle any of these issues, many of which have dominated conservative debate for years. Vitter seems to be lumping them into one fireball of conservative values so as to give virtually no wiggle room for a political opponent on the right.
But there could be a stumbling block in the Vitter master plan. A meeting of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee takes place on March 14th in Shreveport. An effort will be made to allow independent voters to cast ballots in any future GOP congressional primary. Louisiana Democrats opened up their primary process last year to independent voters, and feel this is a good way to recruit new voters and expand the party's voting base. The reasoning makes sense. If an independent voter makes his or her choice in a party primary, the odds are they will stay with that choice through the general election.
Independents are the fastest-growing group of new registered voters in the state, with a present total number of 640,725. As Republican state central committee member Mike Bayham stated in offering the resolution to bring in independent voters: “It is haughty and unwise for the GOP to keep independents from voting in Republican congressional primaries when Democrats permit it. You are ignoring a large group of conservative Independents that are part of the party's voter base. We need to do everything we can to keep them."
But will independent voters who are allowed to vote in a Republican primary be more or less likely to sign on to the Vitter conservative agenda? Some think not, and feel such changing of the process allows room for a primary challenge to Vitter. It’s no secret that Secretary of State Jay Dardenne is eyeing a challenge to Vitter, and he would certainly benefit by new and less doctrinal voters being allowed to vote in the Republican primary.
So what initially is looked on as an internal party effort to increase voter participation may turn into a donnybrook between the incumbent Republican Senator and the current Secretary of State over who gets the edge in the 2010 Republican primary. If Dardenne's forces behind the scenes are successful in pushing through a more open process of participation, look for the first term Secretary of State to kick off a much more aggressive effort in both fund-raising and name recognition throughout 2009.
And remember folks, this is just a Republican primary. Just as Senator Mary Landrieu was profiled as the most vulnerable Democratic senator in 2008, Vitter has the same target painted on him in 2010. And you thought 2008 was a banner political year in Louisiana. Just hang on.
“In Louisiana, we love to have political fights, and they generally rough and tumble fights.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers and websites throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.
Jim also has a new book out on his views of Louisiana. You can read about it and order it by going to www.jimbrownla.com. .
Jim’s radio show on WRNO (995 fm) from New Orleans can be heard each Sunday, from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.