Louisiana Democrats' Fundraiser Comes Amid Recruitment Push


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's Democratic Party hosts its large annual fundraiser Friday, with an eye toward recruiting a deeper bench of candidates and proving that Gov. John Bel Edwards' capture of statewide office three years ago wasn't a fluke.

Democrats in the state appear energized about campaigns this year and next, believing they've gained new entry points through voter frustration with Donald Trump's Republican presidency and by having a Democrat in Louisiana's top job.

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When the party faithful gathers Friday night in a Baton Rouge hotel ballroom for the True Blue Gala, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe intends to tell them Louisiana can make strong strides in boosting the Democrats in elected office, like his home state did.

"I think we have a huge opportunity to pick up seats," McAuliffe said in an interview. "Democrats can win in Louisiana, like they did in Virginia, when you're focused on helping the common people."

Louisiana's six U.S. House seats are on the ballot in November, along with a special race to fill the secretary of state's job.

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But the bigger election comes a year later, when seven statewide positions are on Louisiana's ballot, along with the 144 state legislative seats. Edwards will be fighting for re-election, with Republicans trying to unseat him, and term limits will create tremendous turnover in the state House and Senate.

The Louisiana Democratic Party has launched training sessions aimed at attracting people to run for office, work on campaigns and volunteer for progressive causes. The party has filled hotel conference rooms and union halls with interested participants seeking to learn about fundraising tactics, social media campaign methods and ways to track voters.

"Six years ago we couldn't put six people together in a room to do a training like this," Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the state Democratic Party, told about 100 training participants at one Baton Rouge training session. "Now, we have literally thousands of individuals who have reached out to us."

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GOP leaders say the Democrats are overreaching in a state growing redder.

Republicans have won 17 of the last 18 statewide races in Louisiana, capturing every statewide elected position in Louisiana, besides the governor's seat. The state House and Senate are overwhelmingly Republican, and every U.S. House seat but one is held by the GOP. And Trump remains more popular in Louisiana than in many other states.

While Democrats are working on recruitment efforts, so are Republicans.

Louis Gurvich, chairman of the state Republican Party, said while the president excites "emotions on both sides, friendly and hostile," he doesn't see running against Trump as a winning premise for a Louisiana candidate.

Gurvich said he expects a "red wave" in the next rounds of elections: "I think the citizens of Louisiana will favor the Republican approach over the Democrat approach."

Republicans say Edwards' election in 2015 was a one-off, with a flawed GOP candidate in former U.S. Sen. David Vitter and a primary season that saw Republicans weaken Vitter by repeatedly attacking him.

"It was a peculiar election in that there were extraneous factors in the election that will not likely occur again," Gurvich said.

McAuliffe describes Edwards' tenure as a boon to Democrats' talking points. He points to Edwards' military background, his Medicaid expansion offering health services to hundreds of thousands and declining unemployment during his term.

"John Bel is a great messenger for the party," McAuliffe said.

– by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter

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