As Republicans take further control of the political landscape, it's fair to say Louisiana Democrats have seen better days.
Few summed it up better than Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, who labeled last week's election a referendum on all things Democratic. Villere turned the tables on the Dems, hitting them on most of the issues Democrats used against the GOP two years ago. "Voters are not satisfied with their failed record on jobs, their ballooning of the national deficit, or their rapid increase in the size and scope of government control," Villere said. "There is no one for the Democrats to blame but themselves."
So, where do things stand now? Democrats have one U.S. senator, one congressman and one statewide elected official in Louisiana. Looking ahead, the picture doesn't get any rosier.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is now the only statewide Democratic official, and he's hardly a model of Democratic solidarity. Earlier this year, the folksy AG from Tallulah filed a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama's health care plan.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu remains the standard-bearer for Louisiana Democrats, though it's rumored she may not seek re-election in 2014. That's a long way off, however. (Remember, just four years ago, Dems held a solid majority of statewide elected officials; Louisiana's political tide can change quickly.) Finally, state Rep. Cedric Richmond's win in the 2nd Congressional District over Republican incumbent Anh "Joseph" Cao allows Democrats to maintain one seat out of seven in Congress.
Joshua Stockley, political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, says Cao's 2008 election likely will become an asterisk in the saga of ex-Congressman Bill Jefferson, the scandalized Democrat whose federal corruption charges gifted Cao with a surprise win. Richmond's victory is important and mathematically fitting, but it's small consolation in light of the "shellacking" (to use Obama's description) Democrats got everywhere else. "New Orleans really doesn't count," Stockley says. "New Orleans is supposed to go Democratic."
does count is the upcoming round of statewide elections in the autumn of 2011 — less than a year from now. One opportunity for Democrats may be the secretary of state's office, which Lt. Gov.-elect Jay Dardenne will vacate later this month. That brings to mind Dardenne's recent opponent, attorney Caroline Fayard of New Orleans. Even though she lost to Dardenne by 14 points in the lieutenant governor's contest, the Democratic newbie received 64,210 more votes than Congressman Charlie Melancon, a fellow Democrat from Napoleonville who shelled out a whopping $4 million on his bid for the U.S. Senate.
"I think Caroline Fayard has a bright future in Democratic politics, even in this very conservative state," Stockley says. "She just has to show people she's not the southern, just-as-liberal version of (Speaker of the U.S. House) Nancy Pelosi. Democrats need a big win in Louisiana right now. They need to show they have some presence here. The secretary of state's election should end up being very competitive."
Because Dardenne is delaying his oath of office as lieutenant governor until Nov. 22, there will be no special election to succeed him in April. Instead, his elected replacement will be chosen next October, along with all other statewide officials. That will give interim Secretary of State John T. "Tom" Schedler, a Republican from St. Tammany and a former state senator, a chance to establish himself in the secretary of state's office.
For her part, Fayard is 32, just fours years older than Ravi Sangisetty, the Houma attorney and Democratic nominee who lost the 3rd Congressional District to Republican Jeff Landry of New Iberia last week. Like Fayard, Sangisetty is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party.
In Washington, Louisiana's Beltway Bunch will begin to address its lack of seniority in the House. "We have an extremely young delegation," says Dr. Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "But there will be six Republicans in the House, which bodes well in a GOP-controlled chamber."
Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette, who faced only token opposition, is the frontrunner to gain the most stature. Early on, Boustany forged a close relationship with Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who is expected to become Speaker of the House. "That in itself is a really big deal," Cross says.
If last week's balloting weakened the Democrats, it also restored U.S. Sen. David Vitter to a position of prominence and influence, particularly in Louisiana. Vitter, a Metairie Republican, easily beat back a challenge from Melancon and 10 others by capturing 56.5 percent of the vote to Melancon's 37.7 percent.
"Once all the dust settles from this election cycle, all the brouhaha about prostitution will be behind him," Cross says. "After another six years in office, he can probably just put it to rest. Of course, there will always be people who try to make hay of it. That won't change."
In politics, some things never change.