ALFORD’S OPINION COLUMN: Has It Started Yet?

You ain’t nobody in Louisiana politics until somebody works for you. 

And there are plenty of people being hired by the five major candidates for secretary of state right now. It's the only statewide election on the fall ballot, so presumably that's where the money will show up. Presumably. All of the top contenders already have campaign managers or general consultants, and a few even have media consultants lined up as well. 

But don’t geek out too hard about the forthcoming attack ads. If political tradition holds, the unofficial start of the 2018 election season this year will be Sept. 3, which is also Labor Day. That’s no coincidence. For many, many moons, consultants, candidates and reporters have pointed to Labor Day as the launching point for media buys, key messaging and hardcore election maneuvering. 

That hasn't always been the case, though, and recent years have seen campaigns unrolling critical operations long before September. Will this year follow the long-standing pattern, or will we see candidates with significant TV buys and aggressive outreach prior to Labor Day? If donor fatigue becomes an issue, and it may very well, the action may come sooner rather than later.

Donor fatigue refers to a political symptom involving people with money who are either giving less than usual or nothing at all after being drained or squeezed too hard during previous election cycles. During last year’s special election for treasurer, it was an issue — particularly following costly U.S. Senate elections in 2014 and 2016, and an expensive gubernatorial showdown sandwiched in between them in 2015. (The 2014 and 2015 marquee races shattered all previous fundraising records for those particular seats.)

Now, here was are again. Or rather, here I am again discussing the same topic as it applies to the 2018 cycle. But is it really donor fatigue, or just too many darn elections? The answer is likely a mix of both, not that it matters much in the long run. You better believe those tired and weary contributors will show up with checks signed and ready should things get weird or their horses look troubled. 

Plus, it could always be worse. Some elections that were eligible for the recent qualifying period won’t have to wait until Labor for the sound of a starter pistol. That’s because they were concluded before they commenced. For example, in the tiny village of Palmetto (pop. 170), no one signed up to run for police chief after the incumbent moved outside of the district lines.

To be certain, money and interest, or a lack thereof, didn’t hold back Louisiana’s congressional races this year. Every incumbent seeking re-election drew opposition from challengers who want to unseat them. More importantly, in political-speak, donors big and small have thus far contributed $9.7 million to the candidates and political action committees targeting the Bayou State’s six congressional districts.

The incumbents look safe for the most part, as we discussed previously in this space. But we’ll have to wait until Labor Day to see how aggressive the Beltway boys want to be with their spending. Unless one of them wants to buck tradition and get a jumpstart.

There are probably more politicos focused on Labor Day 2019, which will be the unofficial start of the next race for governor and a host of other elections. The latest news on that front comes courtesy of Attorney General Jeff Landry and his on-again, off-again love affair with the idea of displacing Gov. John Bel Edwards

Landry’s name was on practically every list of potential gubernatorial candidates prepared by reporters in 2015, 2016 and some of 2017. Since then, not so much. At least not until he ended up in election-related headlines last week saying he might run — and if he does, Edwards would be smoked turkey. So add Landry to your list of maybe candidates, but place an asterisk by his entry. In a recent interview with radio show host Moon Griffon, Landry said unequivocally that he would not run for governor if U.S. Sen. John Kennedy entered the race.

As for Edwards, he’s closing in on his re-election ask as the sixth most popular governor in America, if you take into account Louisiana’s Republican lean. Without taking partisan lean into account, he’s the 24th most popular governor, with a 49-35 percent approval-disapproval rating. Those numbers are according to a FiveThirtyEight poll and a Morning Consult survey, respectively, which were released during July’s final week.

Not to be outdone, some Louisiana politicos are looking even further ahead, to Labor Day 2020. But not many. It’s mostly due to rumblings about a possible Democratic bid for president by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who told CNN’s Jake Tapper a few days ago that his political philosophy could best be described as “radical centrist.”

Labor Day, of course, wasn't created for all of this political foolishness. The holiday was intended to celebrate the nation’s labor movement and the workers that made America strong. Instead, consultants, candidates, and columnists (like this joker) have turned the day into something else entirely, which purists must despise. 

Given all of the cash involved in Louisiana politics, perhaps it’s time for us to treat the election biz as an important job-creating industry as well. That distinction, however, probably wouldn’t be wise. Especially since voters have the ability to turn this job-creating industry into one that strips incumbents of their employment. 

Leave it to President Donald Trump to figure out the two words an elected official wants to hear least from voters: “You’re fired.”

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