The federal government shutdown earlier this month — and the subsequent battle over lifting the debt ceiling — had national Republican leaders reaching for the Tums as they watched their approval numbers crater across the board. A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken last week found the GOP even less popular nationwide than it had been before the shutdown.
A majority of respondents blamed the GOP for the shutdown, and 80 percent of those surveyed said shuttering the government had damaged the U.S. economy. Asked to express approval or disapproval over the way various political factions had handled the budget impasse, 61 percent of respondents disapproved of Democrats, but 77 percent of them disapproved of Republicans. It should come as no surprise that neither party emerged from the gridlock as a winner, though the GOP was clearly the biggest loser.
Moreover, when it came to approval of tea party-affiliated politicians, respondents expressed disapproval by margins of more than 2-to-1. Only 26 percent of those surveyed approved of tea party standard-bearers, while 59 percent said they had an unfavorable impression. One result should alarm incumbents in both parties: Only 24 percent of respondents said they planned to vote for their congressional representative next time, while 66 percent said they "would look around for someone else to vote for."
So why are Louisiana's congressional Republicans doubling down on their support for the shutdown? The answer is easy. They don't report to House Majority Leader John Boehner, but to their constituents. And in Louisiana, gumming up the workings of the federal government, as well as being perceived as anti-anything related to President Barack Obama, is still popular among the Bayou State's many conservative voters.
Only one Louisiana House Republican — U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany of Lake Charles — voted to end the shutdown, while the rest not only didn't vote to end it, but also continued to tout their opposition back home (and in front of any available microphone). U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, even told The New York Times he was ready to go to the mat again when the budget and debt-ceiling debates come back up early next year. That prospect no doubt gives House Republican leaders another bout of indigestion, but it plays well in bright-red rural and suburban Louisiana.
The pro-shutdowners also got an early Christmas gift from President Obama when the federal government rolled out HealthCare.gov, the online portal where Americans without insurance were supposed to sign up for the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The website's launch was a fiasco from Day One — and it remains problematic three weeks later — giving Obamacare opponents plenty of ammunition to argue that if the government couldn't get a website right, how could it be entrusted to deliver health care?
"They had three-plus years to get this working," U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, told Fox News' Neil Cavuto. "This is like Flowers.com not being ready for Valentine's Day."
Still, incumbents might keep in mind that two-thirds of voters told the Post they were looking for fresh faces in local races. That was clear in Louisiana's 5th Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander's abrupt retirement in early August opened the door for state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, to slide into Alexander's spot. Riser had made it plain he wanted to run for Alexander's seat someday, and he has aligned himself with Gov. Bobby Jindal during his time in the Senate. He also is a darling of the National Rifle Association, having authored the "strict scrutiny" state constitutional amendment that made Louisiana the most pro-Second Amendment state in the country.
With those credentials, Riser didn't need a leg up, but Alexander's surprise retirement — followed almost immediately by Riser's announcement of candidacy (and a slew of endorsements and fundraisers) — struck many as too coincidental. Pushback within the GOP amid claims of a "deal" to grease the skids for Riser, along with general voter dissatisfaction, produced a field of 14 candidates. Political newcomer Vance McAllister, a Republican businessman with views very similar to those of Riser, catapulted into the runoff against Riser in the Oct. 19 primary.
McAllister's chief endorsement came from Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, a north Louisiana outdoorsman who also is popular in evangelical circles. Robertson said he thought McAllister was the best candidate to represent "the anti-establishment Republican frustration sentiment," and pointed out, "Of the major Republican candidates in this race, Vance McAllister has the least political experience." Robertson no doubt meant that as a compliment. In their present mood, voters took it as such.