In Louisiana, not so wild about Mitt

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Thus, Louisiana voters continued the GOP primary tradition of supporting very conservative Christian right candidates over eventual winners, last demonstrated in 2008 when Mike Huckabee edged John McCain (43-41%). Prior to the selection of Paul Ryan, Louisianians were abuzz with the prospect of favorite son Bobby Jindal competing for the second spot on the Republican ticket, although to be honest, some were more excited with the prospect of Jindal taking his budget-cutting magic elsewhere than they were about bringing glory to the state. Had Romney picked Jindal, the prospect of a native son on the ticket would undoubtedly have swung some voters to the GOP, although this swing would scarcely have been noted in a state that gave John McCain a comfortable win in 2008 (59-38%).


Despite this snub, Louisiana is fertile ground for the Romney-Ryan message of personal responsibility, shrinking the size and role of government, and reducing the number of people in the "dependent" category. The message of a too-large government and classes of people that don't/won't work resonates strongly in a state with a history of providing jobs as payment for political support and possessing an outsized work-force relative to its size. In addition, the not-so-subtle thrust of the Romney-Ryan campaign to "take back America" treads on the racial divide that still colors every issue in Louisiana where African Americans are often poor, still under-represented, and certain to vote for Obama-Biden. 

The choice of Ryan, in particular, resonates with Louisiana Republicans, who might have been put off by Romney's recent conversion to conservativism, his Mormonism, and his upper-class pedigree. Still, enthusiasm for Mitt is muted in Louisiana, as much of the support reflects less a "wild about Mitt" stance than a "we really can't stand four more years of Obama's liberal agenda." Thus, antipathy for Obama and what he represents (a changing America and a powerful and expansive federal government) constitutes by far the larger theme in this presidential year in Louisiana, leaving the Romney-Ryan team to play second fiddle. Louisiana Republicans realize that the outcome of the presidential election lies outside state borders, in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and other environs, where candidates come by for something more than picking up checks. This ineluctable inability to change the outcome of the election contributes to the vitriol that colors political talk in the state.   

In contrast to diminished expectations at the top of the ticket, down ticket races leave Louisiana Republicans in the enviable position of choosing between two or more candidates for a number of congressional seats, each promising to stand ever more strongly against the President Obama's "socialist agenda."  Despite a significant registration advantage--1. 4 million registered Democrats to 800,000 registered Republicans--Democratic hopes for competing in Louisiana have collapsed entirely in 2012. The party is fielding candidates in only three of the six congressional races with the only possibility of success coming in the reshaped majority-minority 2nd district anchored by New Orleans. Republican dominance at the congressional level continues a trend begun in 2010, when GOP candidates won five of seven districts by a staggering average of slightly over 40% points, leaving aside the 7th District where Republican incumbent Dr. Charles Boustany Jr., M.D. was returned without competition.

In 2012, redistricting gave Louisiana one of the most interesting and significant Congressional races in the country, by placing two GOP incumbents in the same district. The race for Louisiana's 3rd District seat pits incumbent Jeff Landry against the aforementioned Charles Boustany, currently 7th District incumbent. The race between Landry and Boustany is instructive in that it reveals the battle currently being waged for the direction of the Republican Party in Louisiana and the nation. Boustany, first elected in 2004, ranked 99th most conservative in Congress by the National Journal while Landry, first elected in 2012, ranked 36th most conservative. Landry has the support of a number of Tea Party and religious groups and has positioned himself as the "outsider,” while Boustany is much more the "establishment" conservative, allied with John Boehner and possessing an influential sub-committee chairmanship.  Will the merely conservative Boustany win the hearts and minds of 3rd District Republicans, or will they support the "real" conservative Landry? Therein lies the conundrum for the Republican Party in Louisiana and the nation as well.
 
Cross is head of the department of politics, law and international relations at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.