Obama in Absentia

Despite the lack of appearances by Barack Obama and his top surrogates, Louisiana Democrats remain energized " but realistic " about a last-minute visit


It has been nearly eight months since Sen. Barack Obama filled Tulane University's Fogelman Arena with more than 3,500 people and rocked them with his silky-smooth rhetoric. The Illinois senator went on to win Louisiana's Democratic primary, but we haven't seen him inside the Bayou State since. Meanwhile, his Republican foe John McCain has all but bought a condo in Louisiana. He toured the Lower Ninth Ward in April, stood atop an oil rig in August and swooped in during the hurricane-ravaged weeks of early September.

Even when not in Louisiana, Arizona's senior senator has benefited from visits by surrogates like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, First Lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. It's no wonder Obama supporters feel swamped by the opposition. But there's another reason McCain's name has been on the tip of Louisiana's political tongue for months, says Melanie Roussell, an Obama spokesperson. "One of Sen. McCain's top surrogates — Bobby Jindal — is governor of Louisiana," she says, laughing.

As for why Obama didn't make a quick trip to the Gulf Coast following hurricanes Gustav and Ike, among the nation's worst natural disasters this year, Roussell simply says, "He was not able to make it, but he was briefed regularly." She suggests there was also hesitation about dropping into an area already consumed with monstrous challenges: "Bringing a presidential security detail down there had every possibility of distracting from the real recovery efforts."——

Louisiana remains "very important" to Obama, Roussell adds, saying that it remains part of the Democrat's 50-state strategy. There are several staffers inside the state on the Obama payroll, and more than 12,000 volunteers have signed up for Election Day turnout efforts. But that doesn't mean another visit is coming any time soon. "Scheduling right now happens only a few days out and right now there's no scheduled visit to Louisiana," Roussell says.

During the last two weeks, the Louisiana Democratic Party has held a series of "Change for Louisiana" rallies for Obama in various corners of the state. The tour touched down in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Crowley, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Natchitoches, Shreveport, Grambling, Monroe, West Monroe, Ruston, Columbia, Slidell and Covington. While Obama never made it to any of the rallies — he wasn't scheduled to be at any of them — they drew a horde of surrogates singing his praises, including state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, state Sen. Don Cravins, Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover and many others.

Roger Villere Jr., chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, says it's likely Obama has all but abandoned Louisiana. "He's just running so far behind in the polls here," says Villere. "He's obviously focusing on the states he can still win, and Louisiana is not one of them. McCain, however, came down here during the hurricanes even when they were spending less money in Louisiana. That's McCain's style. He sees people are hurting and it becomes important to him to contribute."

It's hard to argue that the Obama campaign views Louisiana as anything but hostile. According to a multi-poll average by, the Bayou State favors McCain over Obama by a 15-percentage-point margin. When it comes to fundraising, McCain has gleaned $2 million from Louisiana donors to Obama's $1 million. Moreover, as Roussell put it, McCain has Jindal, Louisiana's favorite son, in his corner. To hear some folks break it down, McCain didn't exactly reject Jindal for vice president; McCain merely made Jindal a presidential contender for 2012.

Besides, the real action is in swing states. Based on data compiled by The Washington Post and FairVote, a nonprofit election think tank, Obama and McCain, as well as their vice presidential contenders, are focusing on Ohio (22 visits since September), Florida (also 22 visits), Pennsylvania (18), and Virginia (14). It's no coincidence these states also account for most of the candidates' TV ad spending as well, which is why Louisiana voters aren't seeing a barrage of spots for either Obama or McCain.

Still, Louisiana shouldn't feel too left out. The FairVote analysis says formerly contested states such as Michigan have already seen a major decline in campaign attention. A few weeks ago, Michigan was the most visited state by the presidential candidates and their running mates, and it ranked fourth among the top recipients of TV ad spending with $2 million spent between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5. But in the wake of Sen. McCain deciding to pull out of Michigan, it has not seen a campaign visit since Oct. 2 — and television ad spending in the state has dropped significantly.

Overall, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates haven't staged a single public campaign event in a total of 26 states during the period from Sept. 5 to Oct. 21, according to the Washington Post data. That's a touch of neglect Louisiana can sympathize with, but it's also a political reality, says FairVote's executive director Rob Richie. If Louisiana wants a major role in a presidential campaign, it needs to learn how to swing. Without such an attribute, it will continue to play second fiddle to other states. "In the current Electoral College system," says Richie, "when your state isn't close you don't count."

Jeremy Alford can be reached at

Supporters of presidential hopeful Barack Obama turned out for a rally in New Orleans last week, although the candidate was absent. - TRACIE MORRIS SCHAEFER
  • Tracie Morris Schaefer
  • Supporters of presidential hopeful Barack Obama turned out for a rally in New Orleans last week, although the candidate was absent.

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