Republican infighting has suddenly escalated well ahead of Louisiana’s Oct. 14 all-party primary for governor, as a well-funded super PAC is already airing ads designed to deprive Attorney General Jeff Landry of his frontrunner status. This early offensive to help Stephen Waguespack, who is the former head of the state's Chamber of Commerce affiliate, comes unusually early, but his allies have the resources to ensure that voters see many more ads over the next four-and-a-half months.
Waguespack’s backers at Reboot Louisiana, which began a $1.75 million TV campaign in early May to boost the first-time candidate’s name recognition, launched a new spot on Wednesday hammering Landry on an issue he's sought to make his own. “Murder, rape, car jackings. Under Landry’s watch, Louisiana is the most dangerous state in America,” intones a narrator, who goes on to argue that Waguespack “has a plan to take Louisiana back from the criminals.” Landry himself has been emphasizing crime in his advertising, though he’s unsubtly blamed it on Black Democratic mayors and district attorneys.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who has not taken sides in the contest to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, responded to Reboot Louisiana’s commercial by calling for Waguespack to “denounce” the message. “We must learn from the mistakes of the 2015 and 2019 governor’s races, where Republican infighting ultimately squandered our opportunities to win the Governor’s mansion,” Scalise said in a statement referring to Edwards’ two wins in this red state.
Scalise might have also noted that Republicans only began hitting one another on the airwaves much later in those two contests. In 2015, the super PAC supporting frontrunner David Vitter only sprung into action around Labor Day by attacking his two main intra-party rivals, Jay Dardene and Scott Angelle, in a sign that Vitter wasn’t quite as strong as he looked. The scandal-tarred Vitter did indeed make it to the November general election against Edwards, but at great cost: Dardenne crossed party lines to endorse Edwards, who went on to score an upset win the next month, while Angelle remained neutral.
It took a bit longer four years later for the two leading Republicans, Rep. Ralph Abraham and wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone, to start attacking one another on the air, but once again, it hurt the party’s efforts against Edwards. Rispone began targeting his fellow Republican just three weeks before the first round of voting, and while the defeated Abraham did endorse Rispone for the second round, some of the damage was irreparable. Edwards worked hard to fan the flames of intraparty animosity by reminding Abraham’s constituents about the slams Rispone had leveled at their representative, a tactic that helped him perform significantly better in Abraham's district than Democrats usually do.
The Democrat who wants to benefit from this year’s early GOP clash is former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, who would be the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction. Three other Republicans running for governor―Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, and state Rep. Richard Nelson―are meanwhile hoping that an ugly battle between Landry and Waguespack will give them the chance to establish themselves as an alternative conservative option.
Countless progressive organizations seek to engage and mobilize voters, but coordinating those efforts is a mighty task. On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we're joined by Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which works with hundreds of partners at the national and state level to deploy the most effective means of urging voters to the polls. Schreiber walks us through how coalitions of like-minded groups are formed and how the work of direct voter contact is divvied up between them. A special focus is on "blue surge" voters—those who, in the Trump era, joined the rolls for the first time—and why ensuring they continue to participate in the political process is the key to progressive victories.