Numbers not always power

There was an excellent documentary on WLPB last week called “Prohibition” that is particularly relevant as Louisiana goes into elections for statewide offices without a single prominent Democratic candidate.

The first segment of the film shows how Wayne Wheeler, an Ohio lawyer working for the Anti-Saloon League, recognized that his effort to outlaw alcoholic beverages didn’t need overwhelming numbers to impact elections. He needed to deliver only the margin of victory for the side he chose.

Louisiana Democrats, after months and months of obituaries, have awakened to the Wheeler way to win influence in races that pit two Republicans: It’s Democrats who hold the power to decide which candidate wins in the Oct. 22 election. Early voting began Saturday and continues through Oct. 15.

The Democrats still hold the edge in registered voters — 1,408,535 of 2,842,533, as of Oct. 1, according to the Secretary of State. Republicans, other parties and no-party registrants, together, have 1,433,998 voters. Republicans hold every statewide office, also all but one representative and one senator in Louisiana’s congressional delegation.

Almost all of the many, many polls taken in the run-up to this election show a stubborn group — about 25 percent to 40 percent depending on the poll — who basically said they’d vote Democratic.

That’s enough votes to decide which Republican candidate is going to win the rancorous races for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, in which there are no Democratic challengers. “If my math serves me correctly, the Democrats will have the impact on those two races,” said Renée Lapeyrolerie, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party. She added that the party itself is not involved.

“They got themselves somewhat in a box with this rigid ideology of late. I would be interested to see how they would reach out to Democrats,” Lapeyrolerie said.

State Rep. Sam Jones, one of several Democratic legislators who say they have been approached by GOP candidates, said he also is curious what message would be delivered by Republicans who spent a career vilifying Democratic principles and Democrats.

Jones, of Franklin, said the actual approaches by the GOP candidates, however, have been more retail, one-on-one conversations that lean more on personal, behind-the-scenes relationships than the “your Momma wears combat boots” rhetoric of their public personae. The candidates are asking for introductions to Democratic supporters and financial backers, said Jones, who served on Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s staff and is a member of the Democratic State Central Committee.

“It’s an important bloc and we’re paying a lot of attention to it,” said House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, a candidate for secretary of state.

He opposes Tom Schedler, who, as first assistant, took over as secretary of state in November and is seeking election in his own right.

Schedler said the numbers clearly show Democrats hold the margin of victory in both elections, if they vote.

He is visiting churches and speaking to groups frequented by Democrats, Schedler said.

Though neither bragged about it to Baton Rouge Tea Party members last week, both Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and his opponent, Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, also said they are reaching out to Democrats.

Dardenne said he is phoning former legislative colleagues and raising money among Democratic supporters.

Nungesser said he has met with Democratic political clubs in the New Orleans area.

All four say crossing party lines is natural for their political styles and that there is no need to alter their Republican “red meat” rhetoric to attract Democrats. In the real world of politics, more important than philosophy to political leaders is the ability to work together.

Tucker, for instance, said that while he led the GOP House members when Republicans were in the minority, the numbers were such that he had to work across party lines. And, though a member of the governor’s party at the time of his election to the speakership, he needed to rely on Democrats to win.

“I always considered the speakership a balancing act,” Tucker said, adding that he needed Democrats to get to the 70-vote supermajority needed to override vetoes, pass constitutional amendments and generally imprint the House’s will on legislative movements.

“I know how to count,” Tucker said.

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@theadvocate.com.