WEEKLY: Senate Isn’t Only Chamber Facing Change

This story was originally published for Weekly subscribers on June 21, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by subscribing today!

   With the 2019 cycle approaching, Republicans are poised to make gains and continue growing their majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

   The GOP may not be saying it yet, but is going to aim to pick off white Democrats in the House as they have been doing over the last two cycles. “There are some seats that we actually think could be more vulnerable than they were in previous years,” said Louisiana Republican Party Executive Director Andrew Bautsch. He wouldn’t disclose which ones.

   This will be a direct hit to Democrats, who are focused on keeping the seats that they currently have. The minority party caucus is also hoping to flip a few House seats in 2019, although haven’t yet identified which members they’ll target. “We haven't pinpointed those districts and made decisions on those just yet,” said Democratic Caucus Chair Robert Johnson.

   The primary focus of the caucus’ strategy is to keep a hold on the 41 House seats they currently possess. “Number one is to protect our existing seats,” said Johnson. Key to this is getting the 25 incumbent Democrats who are not term-limited re-elected.

   The party must also recruit candidates to fill the 14 open seats that will be vacated by caucus members because of term limits, an area where they are already making some headway. They’ll also have to contest two open seats early in special elections caused by the resignations of Mike Danahay and Gene Reynolds. “We are actively recruiting in those particular areas to be able to at least return our same numbers,” Johnson added.

   There’s been a lot of talk about the potential turnover in the Senate (upwards of 20 new members this next election cycle), but both parties aren’t forgetting their capacities in the lower chamber. 

  The Louisiana Committee for Conservative Majority is an example of how Republicans are preparing. “None of the conservative groups LCCM works with is taking our eye off the House, the conservative base,” said LCCM consultant Kyle Ruckert.

   “There’s a lot of talk about the Senate because there could be a more conservative change there,” said Ruckert. “A number of members are coming over that are House members that are business leaders that could make the state Senate more conservative. I don’t see it as an either-or scenario. You can’t keep your eye off of keeping a conservative House.”

   Ruckert said his organization is focused on maintaining conservative House and increasing conservative population in Senate, especially since House leaders going to the Senate is “part of the discussion in Baton Rouge.”

   “Pushing the Senate has been getting a lot of love and traction. But from our standpoint, they’re both equally as important,” said Bautsch. “It’s going to be a huge turnover. We want to maximize and make sure that we hold our seats that we know we have and also pick up a couple on the way.”

   So far, “picking up a couple” hasn’t been easy. “Finding new candidates is getting a little bit harder each year, especially with the landscape in Baton Rouge,” said Bautsch. “It’s really hard, like with what’s happening with the governor and our legislators, to go to them and say, ‘We really want you to run for this seat.’ And then being like, ‘Well, why would I leave being a businessman or woman to try to do that?’”

   But Bautsch said there are still people have “absolutely” expressed interest. “You have a lot of people that are very interested in running, even when we talk to them about the landscape that is Baton Rouge at the Capitol,” he said.

   House Democrats, meanwhile, are sticking to the electoral playbook laid out by Gov. John Bel Edwards back when he lead their caucus during the 2011 cycle. “He implemented a plan that obviously worked very, very well,” said Johnson. “We’re going to implement that same plan very aggressively.”

   As far as overall strategy, the Democrats don’t plan on nationalizing the races, choosing instead to keep with their 2011 blueprint by focusing on state and local issues. “We will stick with what has worked best for us,” Johnson said.

   Key to the party’s strategy is to efficiently make use of their limited resources and funds, considering they will be facing a flush operation across the aisle. “We’ve always been good with our money,” Johnson said. “We don’t have the Koch Brothers,” he added with a laugh.

   But the caucus does benefits from having an incumbent governor to assist with fundraising and campaigning, a perk that has not been available to them since 1987. “Without a doubt, the governor helps,” Johnson said.

This story was originally published for Weekly subscribers on June 21, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by subscribing today!

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