Sep 27, 2010 7:48 AM by Posted by Sharlee Barriere
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The tea party political debate sweeping through campaigns across the nation has also emerged in Louisiana, but how much impact the movement will have in this fall's elections is an open question.
The October and November elections will be the first major tests of the heft the movement may have on Louisiana's political scene.
What's becoming clear is that the tea party alone can't drive a candidate to victory. Despite the rhetoric, many of the same traditional campaign rules apply, particularly the need to raise money to get out a message.
It's also evident that most major Republican candidates in Louisiana are rushing to embrace tea party supporters, knowing that polls have shown the state is trending to the right and a large number of voters identify with many tea party planks.
"The tea party is the antidote to apathy. People are
frustrated, they're disgusted, they're tired, but the tea party offers an opportunity for discourse and dialogue and a positive impact on the electoral process," Republican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, who is running for lieutenant governor, said at a recent forum by the Baton Rouge tea party.
But a big unknown is whether people who support tea party ideas will vote solely on that agenda, and whether they will care who a disparate group of tea party organizations around the state endorse when they cast their ballots in elections Saturday and on Nov. 2.
For example, Kristian Magar, an oil field manager from New Iberia who had closely allied himself with tea party supporters, couldn't translate that support into a victory or even a place in the Republican primary runoff for the 3rd District congressional race.
Magar placed a distant third in the August primary for the GOP nomination in the race for the seat representing much of southeast Louisiana. He had done little fundraising and had hoped grass-roots support from tea partiers and other supporters could get him into a
Instead, Magar was shut out, and the Saturday runoff is between New Iberia lawyer Jeff Landry and former state House Speaker Hunt Downer of Houma.
Landry, however, has found a way to combine the support of tea party members with traditional Republican backing to mount an aggressive fundraising effort and attack campaign against Downer - and that has Landry poised as the front-runner in the runoff.
The state Republican Party used Landry's tea party backing as one of its justifications for endorsing him over Downer in therace, and the Tea Party of Louisiana, one of several tea party groups in the district, is repeatedly slamming Downer as it backs Landry.
In the lieutenant governor's race, Republican candidate Roger Villere, chairman of the state GOP, is learning that an active courting of tea partiers and the backing of tea party groups doesn't always translate into cash for the campaign coffers.
Villere has done much to attract the tea party voting
contingent. He's attended their forums, adopted nearly any platform offered by a tea party organization, railed against President Barack Obama and talked of defending the U.S. Constitution and states' rights.
In exchange, Villere's picked up the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who formed a congressional tea party caucus, and the backing of local tea party organizations like the Tea Party of Louisiana and the Tea Party of Lafayette.
The endorsements and support haven't changed the bottom-line fundraising reality. Villere's far behind in collecting donations, with the latest campaign finance report showing him with less than $8,000 in his campaign coffers going into the final week of the race.
It remains to be seen whether Villere can bank on the
grass-roots support of tea partiers to propel him into a November runoff, or if he'll wind up in the same spot as Magar.
This cycle of fall elections will teach politicians and potential candidates just how much they need to heed the tea party movement and will give tea party organizations better idea of how to influence Louisiana's political scene.