Polarization in Louisiana Race and partisanship: White and Republican versus black and Democratic.

October 25, 1995

THE DEEP SOUTH continues a disturbing and dangerous political polarization. The two poles are white Republicanism and black Democracy. The Democrats can no longer count on an alliance of working class and poor people of both races coming together to seek common political goals. That coalition worked for them for years, but in the Southern states, it's now dead.

In Louisiana last weekend the non-partisan gubernatorial primary election produced two run-off candidates. One is Mike Foster, a white Republican state legislator who just switched parties. He is conservative enough to earn David Duke's endorsement. The other is U.S. Rep. Cleo Fields, a black liberal Democrat and Jesse Jackson supporter.

Many Louisiana voters will support a degree of liberalism. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, who is retiring, has a voting record "liberal quotient" of 50-55 percent as calculated by the leftish interest group Americans for Democratic Action. But Representative Fields's LQ is 90-95 percent. He could be as white as David Duke's sheet and not stand a chance of getting elected to statewide office in Louisiana.

Pollsters matched up Messrs. Fields and Foster and found the Republican winning by better than two to one. They also matched up Mr. Foster and Mary Landrieu, the white moderate Democratic state treasurer, whom Mr. Fields beat in the election by less than 1 percent of the vote. Pollsters' said the Foster-Landrieu contest was neck and neck. That is why the pastor of the largest black church in New Orleans endorsed Ms. Landrieu, saying "the stakes are too high in this governor's race for black voters to make a symbolic gesture."

Unfortunately symbolism overcame substance in Louisiana, as it has so often elsewhere in the South. The political structure of the South is such that liberal black candidates simply cannot truly compete for the big offices. Until moderate black Democratic candidates emerge, or until black voters swear off symbolism, conservative white Republicanism will dominate Southern politics -- to the detriment of the likes of Cleo Fields' constituents.

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