Louisiana’s everyone-in-the-pool primary system definitely has its charms. But as the state gears up for this fall’s U.S. Senate election, its quirky way of choosing candidates is turning the election less into a contest of ideas and more into a multicandidate muddle.I'll never understand the continuing beef many Louisiana political writers seem to have with the jungle primary. Grace doesn't exactly slam it in that column. But she does say, "Things all would be clearer if the Democrats could choose their standard-bearer and the Republicans pick theirs." Which is a dubious thing for anyone who likes watching politics to wish for.
A new poll by Southern Media & Opinion Research conducted for Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby pegs Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy as the contest’s clear front-runner, followed at some distance by his many rivals for the seat that U.S. Sen. David Vitter soon will vacate.
The survey of 500 likely voters, taken May 19-23, put Kennedy at 32 percent, followed by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany with 10 percent, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell at 9 percent, U.S. Rep. John Fleming at 5 percent, retired Col. Rob Maness at 4 percent, attorney Caroline Fayard at 4 percent, former Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert at 2 percent and Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta at 1 percent.
For starters, there's nothing preventing the parties from doing just that. In fact, they have been known to officially endorse one of several in a field. But what's great about the open primary is it can show just how little a party endorsement (and by extension the party itself) actually matters. This year, the Governor has already endorsed one of the Democrats. As the supposed standard bearer of the party that should hold at least some weight.
But, in reality, the Louisiana Democratic Party is an uncomfortable coalition of disparate personalities and power bases in perpetual competition with one another. Mitch Landrieu hasn't endorsed anyone yet. But he has close ties with Caroline Fayard and that could put him at odds with the Governor's backing of Foster Campbell. The open primary keeps these fissures out in the open and makes them relevant where a party primary would suppress and obscure them. Why, for example, is Kip Holden running against Cedric Richmond? And would that even be much of at threat in a closed party primary?
Besides, the 2016 Presidential campaign suggests the major party duopoly is in a state of flux anyway. A party controlled election tier has rarely made less sense than it does now. Barring some major constitutional reform, this will inevitably settle back down once the parties realign themselves. But right now, voters aren't connecting with either of them nationally or locally. A few weeks ago, Gambit ran a feature on increased interest in alternative parties. As of last October, a full 26 percent of Louisiana voters were registered with "minor" parties or no party at all. Compare that with the 28 percent registered as Republican.
And yet somehow the top two candidates in this (admittedly very early) Senate race poll are both Republicans. That does reflect the basic trend in statewide elections (last year's Governor's race excepted). More to the point, though, it reflects a more direct voter preference than would a process mediated by questionably relevant party structure.