John Kennedy, one of the most quotable and telegenic Republican politicians in the country, is in no danger of losing his Senate seat to a Democrat this fall. We should be clear about that from the outset.
But that doesn’t mean the race Kennedy finds himself in won’t be one of the best in America to watch.
Kennedy isn’t just the star of YouTube and Fox News for his clockwork-consistent cornpone witticisms and easy deconstructions of Biden appointees at the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s a veteran politician with masterful chops on the campaign trail. Kennedy long ago established himself as a fixture in Louisiana statewide politics, serving four terms as the state’s elected treasurer, and made the transition from Scoop Jackson Democrat to populist Republican in the late 2000s, losing a Senate race to David Vitter running as a D in 2004, then switching to R in advance of a close-but-no-cigar challenge to Mary Landrieu in 2008. Then, in 2016, he finally punched through and won the Senate seat he now holds, throttling a Huey Long wannabe Democrat named Foster Campbell by a 61-39 count in the runoff that year.
Louisiana operates on the basis of “jungle primaries” in which candidates of all parties are thrown into one pot and the top two finishers move on to the runoff, assuming none get above 50 percent in the first round.
It’s almost certain Kennedy will accomplish that feat and close off any possibility of a runoff in this fall’s jungle primary. While it’s fun to watch him run for office, curiously enough he isn’t the story here.
My first campaign ad, ‘37 Seconds.’ #JustLikeMe
I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug, and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology. pic.twitter.com/G0qKvmUGKD
— Gary Chambers (@GaryChambersJr) January 18, 2022
What in the heck was that, you ask? And who in their right mind would put out such an ad?
Meet Gary Chambers, a Baton Rouge race-hustling “community activist” known locally as a burr in the saddle to the business community, law enforcement, and the political establishment. He’s been around for more than a decade, getting himself arrested at Metro Council meetings for disruptive behavior and ginning up street protests over all the usual kinds of things.
Chambers has never been elected to anything; this is his third bite at the apple. In 2019, he ran for a state Senate seat and got throttled 76-24 by Regina Barrow, an incumbent Democrat in a monolithically black district. And then last year Chambers ran for Congress in a majority-minority district stretching from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. He managed a respectable 21 percent share of the vote and finished third behind a pair of state senators in Troy Carter, who eventually won, and Karen Carter Peterson (the former chair of the Louisiana Democrat Party).
Chambers didn’t miss the runoff in that congressional race last year by much, but a decision he made upon losing has shaped his future. He endorsed Peterson, who ultimately got clobbered by Carter. But Peterson was supported by Stacey Abrams, and by getting involved in her runoff campaign Chambers got a hookup.
He’d already allied himself with fellow race-hustler Shaun “Talcum X” King, a trans-racial Twitter radical with whom Chambers had collaborated to make a number of racial “outrages” into viral sensations. King helped Chambers raise some $400,000 in small donations for that congressional race; through his connection to Peterson, he then came into Abrams’ orbit.
All of a sudden this small-time street hustler generating social media guffaws over his clownish antics became a not-insignificant political player.
Now we’ll step back a minute, because you need to understand some basic political dynamics with respect to Democrats in Louisiana.
In short, the Louisiana Democrat Party might be the best repository of feudalism left in Western civilization. The landed nobility in this equation are the state’s white Democrats, a dwindling caste who come all too often from monied families or the state’s ubiquitous collection of personal injury law firms. Blacks tend to be the serfs.
As of January 1, Democrats are 40 percent of Louisiana’s registered voters. Some 60 percent of Louisiana Democrats are black; only 36 percent are white. A large percentage of those are Democrats in registration only; because of the jungle primary system there is no reason for them to switch parties and become Republicans despite the fact they consistently vote GOP.
But white Democrats have, save for the few years ending in 2020 when Peterson was the chair, been in charge of the party. The current chair is Katie Bernhardt, a wealthy trial lawyer from Lafayette who has all the usual hallmarks of the Karen/wine aunt caste Tucker Carlson so hilariously identified as the modern Democrat base earlier this week. And the white nobility within the party has always had a message for the black multitudes: “Let us run at the top of the ticket, because you can’t win.”
For a long time there was something called the “30/30 rule” in Louisiana politics. Democrats needed 30 percent of the electoral turnout to come from the black community, of which they’d get a nearly unanimous share, and then they needed to get 30 percent of the white vote. The insulting conceit backing the 30/30 rule was that it was the enlightened and virtuous white Democrats who would make common cause in a virtuous coalition with the black community to win elections over the mouth-breathing rednecks and deplorables so numerous outside of the cities.
But when Bill Cassidy, of all people, knocked off Mary Landrieu in the 2014 Senate race, it was clear the 30/30 rule wasn’t very dependable anymore — because the rednecks and deplorables had routed the enlightened liberals out of Louisiana’s white community. A 30 percent share of the white vote couldn’t be counted on in Louisiana. In federal races that was now a hopeless cause.
Though the next year, due to a bizarre set of circumstances which even more bizarrely found an essential repeat in 2019, a white Democrat named John Bel Edwards did manage a pair of upsets over better-funded Republicans in gubernatorial races.
But for Edwards’ victories, the entire construct of the Louisiana Democrats’ electoral strategy would lie in ruins. Because with 60 percent of the party membership and a lot greater share than that of its elected officials (for example, black Democrats outnumber white Democrats 10-2 in the state Senate and 28-7 in the House), black Democrats in Louisiana started wondering why, if the whites couldn’t win either, it wasn’t blacks running at the top of the ticket and black political consultants getting to spend all that national money trailing in from DNC headquarters and the other usual funding sources.
It’s been almost a decade since the inevitability of a black takeover of the Louisiana Democrat Party was clear to everyone with functioning eyes, but for some reason it didn’t happen.
And then last October a Democrat consultant named Richard Carbo, who had cut his teeth on Edwards’ campaigns but was now working for a D.C. eat-what-you-kill campaign firm, went around looking for a candidate from whom he could derive a paycheck. Carbo’s search consisted, I’m told, exclusively of white prospects. What he ended up with was an airline pilot with a strangely elongated neck and a very mediocre public speaking talent named Luke Mixon. Mixon, because of whose physique we’ve decided to call the Alpaca at my site, has been spouting boring national-Democrat gripes at Kennedy for four months now and getting zero traction. Nobody cares that Kennedy was one of the votes against certifying some of the results in the 2020 election, and nobody seems fired up that Kennedy voted against the Biden infrastructure plan. And yet those are the kinds of things Mixon prattles on about in campaign appearances.
The black community is not impressed with Luke Mixon. And Chambers, who isn’t a particular proponent of racial harmony on his best of days, was highly incensed over the refusal of the Democrat hierarchy to recruit a black candidate.
So he jumped in. And in less than a week Chambers has grabbed more attention, and almost certainly has raised more money, than the Alpaca has managed in four months.
One of the things worth checking on once a week is the Civiqs poll, which provides a rolling tracking survey of Joe Biden’s approval based on a universe of 150,000 or so respondents they issue online surveys to periodically. The Civiqs poll breaks down on all kinds of demographic lines. For example, you can look to see what Biden’s approval rating is among white voters in Louisiana.
That number is 11 percent. Yes, 11 percent. Which comes to barely 7 percent of the total vote.
And that’s Luke Mixon’s base. That’s what the white Democrat hierarchy’s candidate is likely to pull in November.
Meanwhile Gary Chambers’ ad, which not only touts legalizing marijuana (not a particularly radical position) but then uses the issue to claim racial oppression (which will make him an outrageously polarizing figure among Louisiana voters along racial lines) and proceeds to smoke a blunt in a TV ad (seriously?), pretty much locks up some 30 percent of the vote for him as the black Democrat candidate.
And if Chambers is able to best Mixon by a 3-1 or 4-1 number as Kennedy cabbage-patches his way to an easy victory, that white Democrat hierarchy will be forever ruined in Louisiana.
And they know it, and they’re not as amused as the rest of us are by these developments.