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|New era unfolds in congressional races|
Not long after Edwin Edwards endured two bruising campaigns to garner the Democratic Party nomination en route to his election as governor in 1971, the new governor decided the state needed to change the manner in which voters chose their elected officials.
Having spent a ton of money to secure the Democratic nomination before trouncing Dave Treen in the general election, Edwards — as governor — convinced the Legislature to rewrite state law to abolish closed primary elections in lieu of open primaries. Edwards felt it was unfair for Democrats to slug it out among themselves to pick a nominee, only to face a fresh, well-financed Republican in a general election, a Republican who most likely locked up his party's nomination in a somewhat easy, or relaxed, fashion.
EWE's proposal, which the Legislature agreed to, meant registered Democrats would no longer pick a Democratic nominee in one race, while registered Republicans decided among themselves on which Republican would stand as the GOP candidate in a general election. The new electoral process meant all Democrats, all Republicans and candidates from other parties would fight it out in a primary election with the two top vote-getters meeting in a run-off, or general election.
That's the way the process, or system, worked for years, though instances still occurred in gubernatorial races in which a Democrat and a Republican emerged from an open primary election to face each other in a run-off. Elections that come to mind include Treen versus Louis Lambert in 1979, Edwards versus Treen again in 1983, Edwards versus David Duke in 1991 and Mike Foster versus Cleo Fields in 1995. In most of those elections, Democratic candidates spent much of their of time beating up each other while a Republican slipped into a run-off literally untouched, or void of having to fight off a host of GOP candidates to earn a spot in a general election.
The EWE plan the Legislature embraced in early 1970s extended to congressional races, too, meaning the two candidates who finished first and second respectively in a primary election squared off in a run-off election. Still, though, it was common for a Democrat and a Republican to meet in a general election in congressional races. Mary Landrieu's campaign against Woody Jenkins in 1996 and Dr. John Cooksey's election over Francis Thompson in '96 as well are examples.
Along the way, or in the past few years, activists in the Democratic and Republican parties decided they preferred returning to closed primary elections, elections like the ones EWE ushered off the scene way back when. The thinking, or the school of thought, among party activists centered on each party having more control over picking each party's nominee. That would be the case since it would be likely that motivated, partisan voters would turn out in greater numbers in a primary election to determine a party's candidate for a general election. There would be little room for moderates, according to the prevailing opinion among party stalwarts.
It could be argued Republicans led the drive to return to closed primary elections to ensure a staunch Republican, or a hard-core conservative, would get the nod to represent the GOP in a general election. It could be argued, too, that Democrats, particularly African-Americans, preferred closed primaries to ensure that Democrats tapped a candidate who would tow the party line and not overlook his or her base of support in the African-American community if he or she prevailed over a Republican in a general election.
So, a couple of years ago the Legislature signed off on returning to closed primary elections for congressional races only. Let's test the water, so to speak, with U.S. House and U.S. Senate campaigns, or so the thinking evolved in the bowels of the capitol in Baton Rouge.
And that brings us to the 2008 congressional elections, or the first congressional elections to take place since the Legislature made the switch not long ago to closed primaries for U.S. House and Senate campaigns.
The party primaries will be held Sept. 6. The two top vote-getters in each party's primary election will meet one another in an Oct. 4 run-off election if the need exists for a run-off. If only two candidates in each party's primary square off in September the candidate who finishes first in the primary will move on to the Nov. 4 general election. Of course, if a run-off is held in October in a party only election, the winner in the party only race will move on to the November general election, which, this year, is the election in which America will choose a new president.
It is far too early to determine if conducting closed primaries in Louisiana is a good thing. Time will tell.
You can rest assured, though, that's it laughable to suggest a so-called conservative Democrat can get elected to Congress from the Deep South and wield any considerable influence on Capitol Hill. For on Capitol Hill a liberal-leaning leadership rules the roost among Democrats, including the extent to which a Democrat from the South can stray from voting the party line.
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