The following artical was written by award-winning Freelance journalist, Jeremy Alford, that is based in Baton Rouge. This is being reprinted with the written permission of the author. Thank you so very much Jeremy.
By Jeremy Alford
Courier Capitol Correspondent
BATON ROUGE — For $5,000, you can dine next week — in the VIP section, of course — with U.S. Sen. John McCain at the Old State Capitol.
McCain, an Arizona native, is one of the favored Republican frontrunners for president.
The election to actually make that happen, however, won’t be held until November 2008. A span like that represents a lifetime in the political realm. But for McCain and other White House hopefuls, it’s never too early to campaign for Louisiana’s nine Electoral College votes.
Louisiana is in an unprecedented position to woo presidential candidates. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita thrust the state onto a national platform and voters — as well as displaced citizens — are keeping tabs.
Joshua P. Stockley, president of the Louisiana Political Science Association and professor of government at Nicholls State University, said there are a number of factors that will force candidates’ hands when it comes to dealing with Louisiana — directly, on the state level, and indirectly, on the national level.
“They are going to be forced as candidates to craft a message to and about Louisiana, and they are going to be forced as candidates to come to Louisiana if they want the votes,” he said.
During the spring regular session, lawmakers voted to move the state’s presidential primary up on the calendar, a switch that is expected to lead to more attention from the candidates and increased money from political business.
The decision also comes at an opportune moment — for the first time in more than 50 years, there is no heir apparent running for the office; the entire ticket will be stepping down. In short, the contest over the 44th presidency is wide open.
That’s one of the many reasons Mike Bayham, a former St. Bernard Parish councilman and current member of the Republican State Central Committee, felt it was due time to take Louisiana from 32nd to 16th on the national caucus-primary calendar.
He was behind an effort that will change the primary, beginning in 2008, from the second Tuesday in March to the second or third Saturday in February, depending on the date of Mardi Gras.
The chairmen from the state Republican and Democratic parties also lobbied for the bill during the spring session, touting it as an economic benefit for everyone from newspapers to consultants.
But the real beauty of the change is it gives Louisiana more prominence in the national primary system, Bayham said, placing it head of voter-rich states like California, New York, Texas and Florida in picking the next president.
By the time Louisiana cast its votes under the old system in previous years, the election was already decided and there was no reason for White House wannabes to stop in the state or offer assistance. It was a rarity to even hear a presidential candidate talk about specific Louisiana issues like they did in New Hampshire, which is among the states that traditionally hold a January primary.
“At best, Louisiana could expect a brief airport-hanger rally from a candidate who needed to stop off to refuel his plane between Tampa and Dallas,” Bayham said.
With the continued rebuilding of south Louisiana, the early primary will also motivate presidential candidates to visit devastated areas that will be asking for money for years to come, he said. The trips could also open up new lines of communications and help demonstrate what the needs of the state are.
Whether Louisiana’s influence in this process is bolstered due to the decision remains largely unknown. Alabama recently moved into the February fray as well and others are pondering the switch, all of which could lead to a watering-down of the strategy.
“It’s going to have an impact as long as a bunch of other states don’t come along and jump ahead of us,” Stockley said.
Still, McCain’s early and continued interest in an area of the country where President Bush did so well is an indication that Louisiana should receive serious face time with the major players in 2008.
Pearson Cross, a professor of political science at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, said the circumstances are interesting for the state, and that candidates will be expected to address things like “Rita amnesia,” the idea that the feds forgot about southwest Louisiana.
They will also need to be well versed on wind damage, trailer parks, levee systems, coastal restoration and everything else that makes the state tick during this historical period of rebuilding.
Continued national media interest in this process will only heighten the drama, he adds, and the earlier primary will serve as a catalyst. Combined, they will work together to give Louisiana a presidential campaign season like never before.
“This will be an odd election,” Cross said. “No one is beholden to Bush or the Bush administration, so they will have free will to say whatever they want about the hurricanes and the response. They will also be in a position to make big promises to a state that needs them right now.”
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Cross Posted from The Katrinacrat Blog.