A controversial fundraiser by Republican state Sen. Ryan Gatti might come back to haunt his reelection bid.
Last month, Gatti, whose district encompasses all of Webster, much of Bossier, and parts of Bienville and Claiborne Parishes, sent invitations for a Jul. 31 event. With next fall’s election looming, he desperately needed to raise money, having in 2016 and 2017 raised only a fraction of what he spent in winning his office.
He also had gone into hock big time to finance that successful campaign. Over the course of three years, he had lent his campaign over $400,000, dwarfing the amount of money donated to the campaign in the same time period. Through 2017, he hadn’t paid any back.
Further, word had circulated around the district that he would draw a Republican opponent with plenty of financial backing and commitments from a number of prominent GOP supporters. So, he needed a big name to suck in the dollars and turned to an old law school chum whose campaign he had helped three years ago – Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
That may not be the greatest strategy. In the Bossier part of the district that has the most votes, in the general election runoff Edwards won only two precincts and lost most of the rest decisively. In the much smaller Claiborne portion he also received less than 40 percent of the vote. But he trailed only by about 100 votes in the Bienville portion out of around 2,000 cast, and he actually won Webster by a few hundred votes out of 10,000 cast.
Gatti, perhaps as he ran as a Republican, obviously did somewhat better in his runoff. He lost Bienville and Bossier by around 100 votes each, barely lost Claiborne, and essentially won the contest in Edwards’ strongest area by going more than 500 voters better in Webster.
Outperforming in Bossier holds the key to Gatti’s chances. He fits in well with the big government ethos of nominal Republicans such as Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker and its City Council. These elites don’t mind so much whether Edwards remains as governor as long as they can get enough goodies distributed from Baton Rouge to show voters for their own reelection bids.
But the mass public there and in the remainder of the district by and large don’t like tax increases and inflated government. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry Legislative Scorecard, which measures fiscal and regulatory issues, scored Gatti the lowest of any Republican in 2016 at 22, indicating great friendliness to taxing and spending. He rebounded to 96 in 2017.
Abstract scorecards do pique some voters in making their choice, but the symbolism of tax-and-spend Edwards as a Gatti supporter really gets the more casual observers’ attention. Even if Edwards hasn’t proven as big a liability in Gatti’s District 36 as in other districts held by the GOP, while that association may pad Gatti’s coffers on the whole it won’t help his electoral fortunes.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer or this newspaper.