Successful candidates get to take their bows and do their best not to gloat on Election Night. They deserve their moments in the limelight — their names and reputations were on the line, after all.
But behind the scenes (sometimes only barely out of the limelight), major political players and special interests whose names were not on the ballot are popping corks — or licking their wounds — when the votes are finally counted. For more than three decades, I’ve analyzed election results in terms of who really won and lost: my perennial list of electoral Winnas and Loozas.
Herewith my assessment of the 2014 election cycle (including Nov. 4), starting with …
1. The Louisiana GOP — The Republican Party has been steadily building strength in Louisiana since Dave Treen won the governor’s race in 1979 and Ronald Reagan won the White House a year later. It wasn’t always easy, but this year the GOP made electoral politics look easy with Congressman Bill Cassidy’s simple strategy of hanging President Barack Obama around incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s neck like a millstone. Landrieu was on the defensive from Day One and was never able to score a clean hit on Cassidy, though she certainly tried. The tide of anti-Obama sentiment among Louisiana voters was like a tsunami. In retrospect, even if Landrieu had run a perfect campaign, she could not have turned that tide. Anti-Obama voter outrage was so strong that it even changed the course of the District 1 Public Service Commission race, which had nothing to do with the President. Voters didn’t care; they were out to banish anyone tagged with the scarlet letter “O.”
2. David Vitter — Louisiana’s soon-to-be senior senator is now the undisputed kingpin of the state GOP, and his microphone-grab at Cassidy headquarters on Election Night drove home that point. Vitter was the architect of Cassidy’s “virtual” campaign against Landrieu. He recruited Cassidy, cleared the field of most other would-be Republican challengers, helped Cassidy raise money and lent one of his top aides to Cassidy as campaign manager. In many ways, Cassidy’s campaign was a trial run for Vitter’s gubernatorial bid next year. It proved (just as Vitter did in his 2010 re-election campaign) that a candidate with lots of money can run for a major statewide office without actually getting out and touching voters in person. That’s good news for a guy who could still be dogged by a sex scandal.
3. Utility Companies — Incumbent Public Service Commission chairman Eric Skrmetta’s narrow re-election victory was a huge win for the power companies he regulates. Skrmetta was on the ropes after the Nov. 4 primary, in which he trailed challenger Forest Bradley Wright 38-37 percent. Skrmetta took hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from regulated companies, which turned voters off in the primary. In the runoff, he found a silver bullet and tagged Wright as a former Democrat and Obama supporter. Turns out voters hate Obama even more than high utility bills.
4. The Jefferson Teachers Union — You would think that a conservative, Republican stronghold like Jefferson Parish would be an unlikely place for a public employee union to stake a political claim, but you would be wrong. Thanks to nearly $450,000 in campaign money from the American Federation of Teachers (the national teachers union), the Jefferson Federal of Teachers elected a handful of pro-union Jefferson Parish School Board members and now has a solid majority of board allies. Look for the board to reverse its recent decision not to recognize the union. That could be the start of other policy changes in Jefferson public schools, which in recent years saw significant improvement in student test scores.
5. The Recovery School District (RSD) — The rededicated school millage in Orleans Parish will not only help maintain new school buildings, but it also will give the RSD its own share of public school finances for the first time. If RSD schools ever revert to Orleans Parish School Board control, the money will follow the schools. For now, however, the RSD finally gets a share of local revenue.
6. Nursing Homes and Hospitals — The passage of Constitutional Amendments 1 and 2 on Nov. 4 locked in state funding for nursing homes and hospitals, removing them from the short list of line items that face draconian cuts when the state has a budget crunch. Insiders have long known that the nursing home industry is among the most powerful lobbies in the state Capitol. This proved it.
7. Steve Scalise — The House Majority Whip doesn’t need to prove that he’s a powerful guy, but it’s always nice to see evidence that one has long coattails back home. Scalise did a strong TV ad for Eric Skrmetta in the incumbent’s hotly contested PSC race, and it helped reverse what looked like a doomed re-election bid by Skrmetta. Scalise’s congressional district overlaps the most populated parts of Skrmetta’s PSC district. Which brings us to …
1. The Democratic Party — Southern populism is officially dead. Mary Landrieu and Edwin Edwards tried to give it a last hurrah, which is ironic considering they often fought one another in their heyday. Landrieu’s legendary clout — and her undisputed record of delivering for Louisiana in hard times — was no match for the virulent anti-Obama sentiment among white voters, who have deserted the Democratic Party in droves over the past 30 years. That bodes ill for Democrats seeking higher office in the statewide elections next year. For his part, Edwards lost his relevance when he entered federal prison more than a decade ago. The doddering Silver Zipper’s pathetic race for Congress in the 6th District was less a last hurrah than a political sideshow for a fawning national media that can’t let go of their favorite clichés about our food and our politics being so spicy.
2. Mitch Landrieu — The mayor may not want to admit it, but his sister’s defeat in the Senate race means he can forget about running for governor next year. If he does run, the only thing he’ll accomplish is guaranteeing the election of David Vitter. Like his sister, Mitch Landrieu will be easily tied to Barack Obama if he tries to run statewide next year. (The President endorsed the mayor’s re-election in January and will still be president — and unpopular — next autumn.) That should make it easy for the mayor to keep his campaign promise to serve out his second term.
3. Jefferson Business Leaders — Four years ago, business and civic leaders in Jefferson successfully backed a slate of “reform” candidates for the Jefferson Parish School Board. The new board majority refused to deal with the teachers union and made other moves that endeared them to the business community. This go-round, the union fought back and recaptured a board majority. It’s not a fatal blow to the business folks, but they need to regroup for parish and state elections next year.
4. Higher Education — Thanks to the passage of Constitutional Amendments 1 and 2 on Nov. 4, Louisiana’s public colleges and universities are now the only major budget item that can be cut when money gets tight in Baton Rouge. And as long as Bobby Jindal is governor, money will be very tight.
5. Senior Judges — A proposed constitutional amendment to remove the mandatory retirement age for judges failed on Nov. 4. Judges can serve out their terms once they reach the age of 70, but they cannot run again after that.
6. The Duck Dynasty Robertsons — Their show may have been a runaway hit (at one time), but politically the Robertsons are a one-hit wonder. They shot their political wad with the election of the flawed Vance McAllister in the 5th Congressional District last year, and when he tanked amid a sex scandal the Robertson clan tried to rebound by pushing one of its own this year. Zach Dasher, a nephew of Phil Robertson, ran a close third on Nov. 4. McAllister finished a distant fourth. Worse than the Robertsons’ declining political fortunes, their show’s ratings are sinking fast as well.
7. Bobby Jindal — The governor’s persistently low approval ratings in Louisiana have neutered him as a political force, but truth be told he didn’t have coattails when he was popular. Nature abhors a vacuum. So does power. Jindal stayed on the sidelines (when he was actually in Louisiana) during the Nov. 4 primary, and he played at most a cameo role in the Dec. 6 runoff elections. That left a void that the governor’s intramural nemesis David Vitter was only too happy (and able) to fill. Insiders have known for a while that Vitter is the real power in the state GOP, but now it’s official. That will weaken Jindal’s hand in the upcoming legislative session — and in next year’s statewide elections, which unofficially begin this week.