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Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



Last week, this column analyzed how only a handful of states will be both relevant and make any substantive difference in next year’s presidential election.  Under the present system, it’s a “winner take all” contest, where the state’s electoral votes go to the top vote getter.  In a red state, like Louisiana, a Republican voting majority is a dead cinch.  So why should the candidate for president pay any attention to die hard red or blue states where campaigning is of little value?  How about this? Maybe there is a way for my home state of Louisiana to become a major player.

There is no doubt about the Democratic nominee.  The president is running for reelection, but has little chance for any gains in Louisiana and the Deep South.  But the Republican nomination is wide open, with a number of candidates actively in the running.  The primary season kicks off on January 16, with the Iowa caucuses.  Here is what takes place before it is primary election day in Louisiana.

Monday, January 16, 2012: Iowa caucuses

Tuesday, January 24:
New Hampshire

Saturday, January 28:
Nevada caucuses, South Carolina

Tuesday, January 31
: Florida

Tuesday, February 7 (Super Tuesday):
Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Montana Republican caucuses, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah

Saturday, February 11: Louisiana primary

Not only will there be a number of elections before Louisiana’s primary, the cost factor has become a big legislative issue.  The cost for a primary in the Bayou State is $6 million, no chump change in a year with a real state budget crisis. The Louisiana Legislature is searching for ways to fill a void of some $1 billion less than was available last year.  Some legislators are suggesting calling off the primary all together and letting the political parties choose delegates to their respective national conventions as they each see fit.

Louisiana political commentator John Maginnis wrote recently about why there is little enthusiasm for a state primary.  “If like four years ago, only a quarter of Republicans who are about 25% of registered voters, vote in the presidential primary, overall participation will be about 6%.  The arithmetic frames this question for our Legislature: is the opinion of 6 percent of Louisiana voters worth almost $6 million, or about $30 a vote, to find out?”

So is there anything Louisiana can do to save $6 million, yet still have a significant impact on who will be the next president? Yes!  And at no cost.  Louisiana is the only state in the country that has a late 2011 election already scheduled.  It’s the regular gubernatorial election where many races will be on the ballot with a significant statewide turnout.  Therefore, instead of wasting $6 million in election costs, the Bayou State could be the first in the nation to have a vote on who will be the respective party nominees.

It need be only a non-binding beauty contest. Both Republicans and Democrats could hold caucuses in the spring of next year to pick their respective delegates. But as far as giving the nation an indication of how voters are thinking nationally, Louisiana could, at no cost, be the first state to hold a presidential primary.

It would be an understatement to say that the candidates from both parties would flock to the deepest of the deep southern states. It is the first chance, particularly for the current long list of Republican presidential wannabes, to build momentum and show strength.  It would be unwise for any candidate, particularly within the republican ranks, to pass up making a significant campaign effort in Louisiana.

A Louisiana presidential election tied to the gubernatorial election this fall would also put some additional heat on the candidates to focus on Louisiana issues.  Put them on the spot when it comes to drilling in the Gulf, revenue sharing, and coastal erosion.  Here’s what the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives had to say in commenting on Florida moving its primary up to next January: “Moving up the primary would force presidential candidates to pay more attention to issues that are important locally, like soaring property insurance rates.” Hello! Sounds like what Louisiana officials should be saying.

Iowa has the process of sucking in presidential candidates down to a science. The have the first of the nation’s primary voting through their caucus system that will take place in January of 2012.  But they take gambit one step further by having a second “mini-caucus” this coming August.  As Mike Murphy in Time magazine wrote this week:  “It’s an essentially phony contest that forces the candidates to start earlier, visit more often, book more hotel rooms and put more friendly Iowans on the payroll to organize the vast logistics of getting all those would-be voters”¦” out to vote.  Hillary Clinton spent $29 million in 2008 Iowa caucus, with other candidates spending millions more.

If Iowa can get the various candidates to genuflect all over the Hawkeye state and garner huge media attention over 10,000 voters at a caucus, it would seem for Louisiana to be a no brainer to tie in a straw vote for president at the same time as this fall’s gubernatorial election.   The Louisiana legislature is in session right now.  A simple minor change in the election law will allow the presidential straw poll in November, and pull millions of dollars into the state, and cost the taxpayers nothing. No other state has such an opportunity.

The Scots have a saying that opportunities are never lost; someone will take the one you miss.  There is a win-win opportunity available for Louisiana if its political leadership is wise enough to seize the moment.

“Opportunity is often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be tuning in.” Jackson Browne

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com.   You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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