Louisiana Elections

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, the third-ranking House Republican, talks at the Lousiana secretary of state's office as he qualified for his congressional re-election bid, on Friday, July 20, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La. Friday was the last day of the sign-up period for the Nov. 6 ballot. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

With the 2018 election season down to its final days, some of Louisiana’s six incumbents in Congress are making a big last push. They’re not knocking on every door and chasing each possible vote in their own districts, though. Instead, they’re focusing their energy on setting themselves up for what comes after.

In one sign of the times, 1st District U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise is busy on the campaign trail far from his conservative suburban New Orleans home base, appearing on behalf of fellow Republicans in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia, according to Politico. At least four of his staffers have been dispatched to help still more colleagues in still more states.

Scalise’s main agenda, as everyone who’s paying even a little bit of attention knows, isn’t to beat the three Democrats, one Libertarian and one Independent who signed up to run against him. That much he clearly considers a given. It’s to try to help enough vulnerable Republicans hold on to allow the GOP to keep its majority — and to allow Scalise, now the House majority whip, to move up to majority Leader or perhaps even House speaker.

He’s surely the most prominent, but Scalise isn’t the only local representative already looking past Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the delegation’s only Democrat, represents the 2nd District, which runs from his native New Orleans upriver to Baton Rouge, and he’s facing three challengers for reelection. Yet he too is obviously assuming voters will send him back, and planning for the next Congress.

Richmond, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, recently threw himself into the debate over his party’s future should Democrats retake the majority. In a “Dear Colleague” letter, he endorsed the notion that one of the top two positions should go to an African-American member “if there is any change in our top leadership positions.”

Right now, the top two spots are held by white politicians, U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi of California and Steny Hoyer of Maryland. The third-ranking Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, is African-American and has long been a mentor to Richmond, and several younger black members have also expressed interest in leadership posts. And Richmond himself could find footing in the leadership ladder, or at least snag a good subcommittee chairmanship.

Then there’s U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who represents a largely rural district centered around Monroe. He drew three challengers and is running a biographical television ad that’s officially aimed at heading them off. The commercial, though, happens to be airing some of the big media markets that skirt the 5th District, so a nice byproduct for him is that he is introducing himself to voters statewide who will vote in next year’s gubernatorial contest. Despite his own reelection this year, Abraham has made no secret of his interest in competing for governor in 2019.

The collective take-away here, at least superficially, is a depressing one for people who favor robust elections. None of these three is sweating the outcome Tuesday. Nor are their three colleagues, U.S. Reps. Clay Higgins of Port Barre, Garret Graves of Baton Rouge and Mike Johnson of Benton.

One silver lining, though, is that all of them at least attracted challengers. Some are the usual suspects, others are politically out of step with most of their fellow constituents but eager to argue for different policies. A couple, Tammy Savoie in the 1st District and Mimi Methvin in the 3rd, could be considered part of a national movement of accomplished Democratic women taking on establishment men. Savoie is a military veteran and clinical psychologist who argues that Scalise’s conservative policies don’t address his poor state’s needs. Methvin is a former judge, congressional aide and federal prosecutor campaigning for Higgins' seat against the corrupting influence of big money in politics. It may not be the year of the woman here in Louisiana, as it could be in other states, but both are the kind of candidates who could easily run well in more competitive districts.

And there’s an outside chance that Louisiana could see more competitive districts in the future, once the Legislature that voters choose next year get its crack at redistricting following the 2020 census.

Experience suggests that’s too much to hope for. On the other hand, forcing incumbents to ask for voter support every two years is a start. If all this year’s long shot challengers accomplished anything, at least they did that.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.