If you follow Louisiana politics and aren’t familiar with those names, you probably will be soon enough. Collectively they may represent the future face of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
With Gov. John Bel Edwards nearing the midpoint of his final term in office and former Congressman Cedric Richmond now working for the White House, Democrats in Louisiana are looking to the future and wondering who the next big names will be on the left.
While there are certainly bankable Democratic personalities from the ranks of Louisiana’s mayors and state legislators — not to mention the New Orleans City Council — some of the highest-profile elections going right now are anchored by Democrats who are somewhat new to the campaign scene.
For Democratic diehards, this should be viewed in a positive light. The state party is clearly entering a transitional moment. Not only are Edwards’ days numbered, but Chairwoman Katie Bernhardt has only been on the job for about a year. In fact, recruiting more Democrats to run for office is among Bernhardt’s goals, and we’re already seeing the fruits of her labors in the developing U.S. Senate race.
Political newcomer Luke Mixon, a former fighter pilot, announced last week he will challenge U.S. Sen. John Kennedy. Mixon enters the race with Bernhardt’s backing and a campaign staff with connections to Edwards and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
Just 24 hours after Mixon announced, activist Gary Chambers told LaPolitics he may get into the race as well. “I’ve had a lot of people ask me to become a candidate and I’m considering it. I was considering this race before I ran for Congress earlier this year,” Chambers said in an interview. “Whatever I do, I will work to make sure Sen. Kennedy isn’t re-elected.”
The New Orleans congressional race held earlier this year put Chambers, his energetic personality and his progressive politics on the proverbial map in the Pelican State. But Chambers said his failed congressional bid in the 2nd District also helped him broaden his political network well past Louisiana. “We’ve got 15,000 individual donors who are ready to support a change,” he added, “and all of them would like to see a new senator.”
With a massive social media presence and a fundraising game that impressed, Chambers ran to the left of most of the ballot earlier this year. At the very least, he showed a progressive candidate with the right messaging can get national attention and money.
Then there’s the special election in Lake Charles’ Senate District 27, which will be decided this fall. Louisiana politicos have seen this kind of legislative race before. On one side is a Democrat with support from the trial bar and on the other side is a Republican with the backing of business and industry.
Edwards waded into the special election last week by endorsing businessman Dustin Granger. That’s a serious get for a first-time candidate who was, just a few months ago, preparing to run instead in the 3rd Congressional District.
While the Lake Charles race is up the air, especially with businessman Jeremy Stine consolidating establishment Republican support, Democrats are looking at guaranteed wins in two other special legislative elections on the Nov. 13 ballot.
In Monroe’s House District 16, Adrian Fisher, president of HCBS-Cognitive Development Centers, is viewed as the local favorite and has the support of heavyweight politicos like Rep. Francis Thompson. In New Orleans’ House District 102, realtor Delisha Boyd has impressed with her fundraising prowess and connections to local influencers.
Make no mistake: Republicans want to compete, too. But for Democrats, there seems to be more at stake.
The open state Senate seat, for example, speaks to the governor’s comfort level when vetoing bills, particularly if there are threats of an override. Plus, Dems could always use another voice on redistricting.
As for the U.S. Senate race, Democratic leaders will have to address the potential entry of Chambers into the field. If there’s a dividing line in the party, Chambers has found it — and it’s separating progressives from moderates. While infighting amongst Republicans isn’t uncommon, since the party controls most major offices, Democrats truly cannot afford anything but a unified front.
Simply put, Democrats have something to prove. Luckily for diehards, there have been new signs of life from the party lately, especially when it comes to recruiting first-time candidates. But without wins, opportunities will be few and far between to build upon that progress.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.