Sunday, November 17, 2013


I really hope political insiders interpret the special election conducted yesterday in Louisiana's Fifth Congressional District this way:
Louisiana voters elected Republican Vance McAllister in a runoff to fill the state’s vacant Fifth District U.S. House seat on Saturday. McAllister, a businessman who embraced the expansion of Medicaid available to the state under the Affordable Care Act, defeated a Republican party favorite who called for full Obamacare repeal.
Yup -- full-on hatred of Obamacare did not prevail. Here's how that played out during the campaign (though please note that it's a stretch to say McAllister won by being pro-Obamacare):
Although McAllister pledged to vote to repeal Obamacare if he had the chance, he said there's no way the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama would ever sign on to the idea.

"I would love to take an eraser and repeal it, but we can't," McAllister said, according to The News-Star. "It's a nightmare, and we're here living with it. People all over this district are losing their insurance every day that were lied to by the president of the United States, but I'm not going to stand here and lie to you and tell you we can repeal it."

But Riser insists the law can still be repealed if Republicans continue to fight it.

"Yes, it can be repealed," Riser countered. "It's been a complete failure to start with — a complete train wreck. If we can put a man on the moon, we can repeal Obamacare."

The two have also parted on another key component of the health care law: Medicaid expansion. Gov. Bobby Jindal has refused to expand the state's Medicaid program, a move Riser agrees with. He argues expanding the program would be too costly.

However, McAllister is in favor of expansion, saying the state would not be able to cover the costs of the Affordable Care Act without money from the federal government, which would ultimately lead to more cuts in health care and education.

... Roy Fletcher, a veteran Louisiana Republican political consultant who's also not affiliated with either campaign, ... [said] that McAllister may be trying to position himself slightly to the left of Riser in a district where African-Americans make up about a third of the population.
Perhaps. And it seems to have worked. But there was also this:
Running in an impoverished part of the state, McAllister competed aggressively for blue-collar voters. During the closing days of the race he aired a TV ad spotlighting an endorsement from Willie Robertson, a star in the popular A&E reality series "Duck Dynasty," which is about a family-run duck-call business.
So maybe McAllister got some of the blue-collar white vote. And who knows -- maybe some of that vote is pro-Obamacare. (Apparently, it isn't as virulently anti-Obmacare as we thought.)

A key factor seems to have been the perception that McAllister was an outsider and Riser an insider:
Riser doubles as both the establishment candidate and the tea party favorite, promoting his experience but promising strident opposition to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in the district.

McAllister, meanwhile, has embraced his outsider status.... McAllister is running as the more measured pragmatist, criticizing Washington gridlock and hyper-partisanship, particularly on Obama's health care law.

[Riser is an] ally of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal....

McAllister counters eagerly with his newcomer status.

"I am not part of the establishment; I'm just part of the district," said McAllister....
So there are a few lessons to be learned from this:

* Yes, there's a significant bloc of voters who'd like Obamacare to work.

* Also, being able to portray yourself as an outsider can be a very, very good thing for your candidacy. (Maybe a few non-career-politician Democrats ought to try running against entrenched incumbents in seemingly hopeless Republican-leaning districts.)

* And finally: Maybe the GOP establishment ought to get behind non-partisan or "jungle" primaries, especially in red districts and states. The result, in many cases, is likely to be what it was here: two Republicans emerging from the primary field, one of whom is marginally less crazy, and is therefore the more appealing candidate to moderates and liberals, while possibly being conservative enough to win plenty of conservative votes as well. Partisan House primaries in red districts, by contrast, often leave an extreme Republican running against a (boo! hiss!) Democrat, and that extreme Republican then wins and becomes another Crazy Caucus member who seeks shutdowns and default. In Senate races in red states, an extremist Republican who wins a partisan primary sometimes loses to the Democrat. The right-wing establishment ought to embrace non-partisan primaries as a way of minimizing the likelihood of both these outcomes.


Victor said...

"(Maybe a few non-career-politician Democrats ought to try running against entrenched incumbents in seemingly hopeless Republican-leaning districts.)"

It sure worked for Elizabeth Warren.

And if I remember correctly, CA has non-partisan primaries - and that's one of the reasons they took the state's government back from Republicans.

Jeff said...

Victor: no disrespect, but I think you've got to come up with a better example than Elizabeth Warren. I'll admit that the candidate pool to run against Scott Brown seemed pretty weak until Warren got in, Massachusetts is hardly Republican leaning. Before Brown's special election win, the last Republican to win a US Senate seat was in 1972.

Victor said...

Good point.
I totally screwed-the-pooch on that analogy.