It's been a truism for decades that Louisianans view federal elections about the same way we view elections in Europe. We know they're important in the big scheme of things, but as far as most of us are concerned, they happen somewhere else. Louisiana seemed to embody Tip O'Neill's old maxim that "All politics is local."
The Internet and the current political climate are changing that, however. Consider U.S. Sen. David Vitter's successful campaign for re-election in 2010. Marred by a prostitution scandal, Vitter nonetheless coasted back into office by running not against his declared opponent, U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, but against President Barack Obama. It wasn't pretty, but Vitter's strategy was very, very effective.
And this year, in countless local and regional races — from the hotly contested 3rd Congressional District race in Acadiana to local school board contests — the national elections loom large. Everything from turnout to party affiliation matters. And in one local school board race (for District 3 in Orleans Parish), one candidate has received thousands of dollars in "national" donations.
At the top of the ballot, GOP nominee Mitt Romney will easily carry Louisiana. The only question is whether he'll top John McCain's 58.6 percent of the vote in 2008. Put another way, can President Obama crack 40 percent this time? (In 2008, he fell just short at 39.9 percent.)
While the Democratic ticket won't come close to winning Louisiana's eight electoral votes, the president's presence on the ballot this Tuesday will drive black voter turnout across the state. That will have a huge impact on local elections. Conversely, his absence from the Dec. 8 runoff ballot will figure significantly in the outcomes of any elections that are not settled this week.
Another interesting twist on the national elections, one that has an intangible local connection, is the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the presidential race. Initially, I thought the storm would hurt Obama's chances because it hit coastal cities hardest — cities that are Democratic strongholds.
Now I'm not so sure.
The storm knocked out power to millions of citizens, and some precincts will have to rely on generators to open. To the extent that voters have been displaced or just had their worlds turned upside down (which could cause some to "forget" or otherwise fail to vote), the storm could still wreak havoc for one or both candidates. If the race is as close as it was in 2000, we could see a second storm surge — of lawyers filing election contests in states where the margin was small.
Otherwise, the president generally has received high marks for his response to Sandy, even from Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. (The glaring exception to those praising Obama was former FEMA Director Michael "Heckuva job, Brownie" Brown, but you have to consider the source in his case.) We must note that Obama was going to carry New Jersey anyway, by a wide margin, but Christie's praise got lots of national play. So did New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama. Bloomberg is a Republican-turned-Independent.
Obama also will carry New York easily, but that's not the point. Praise from guys like Christie and Bloomberg could help the president in some of the hotly contested northern swing states — maybe even in hurricane-prone Florida, where Romney has led but where things tightened up in the final days.
Sandy won't change any outcomes here, but the storm did reemphasize how vulnerable all Americans remain.
And all of this should remind us that all politics is now national.