Danae Columbus: GOP continues to build on its base at Southern Republican Leadership Conference

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Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Even though the effects of the unpopular federal shutdown — now the longest in U.S. history — are playing out in cities and towns across America, Republicans are determined to elect more local and statewide officials in Louisiana and other Southern states. Dubbed the start of the 2020 election season, this weekend’s Southern Republican Leadership Conference at the Pontchartrain Center will serve as a rallying point for more than 1,000 GOP faithful, elected officials, and prospective candidates — especially Congressman Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, who have already entered the race against Gov. John Bel Edwards, and former Congressman John Fleming who is said to be considering the same race. GOP candidates down-ballot in the 2019 legislative and local races need a strong slate of contenders for statewide offices to guard against voter apathy.

To fire up the crowd, many of the country’s most prominent Republican organizations and speakers are headed to New Orleans. Southern states like Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama have long elected conservatives and this year should be no different. Armed with a substantial war chest, John Bel Edwards is still an early favorite in the governor’s race because of his unique ability to satisfy a wide cross-section of the electorate – including President Trump who gave Edwards a shout-out during Monday’s speech at the Farm Bureau Convention.

According to pollster Ron Faucheux, President Trump’s job approval rating is pegged at 41 percent this week and his disapproval rating is 14 points higher at 55 percent. Overall voters nationwide doubt President Trump’s fitness to serve, his leadership skills, his honesty and his ability to care for average Americans. Independent voters — the majority of whom supported the president in 2016 — give him even lower ratings. Conversely, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team are enjoying a new wave of popularity, as was expected.

Some Democrats may be gloating that polls are blaming President Trump and the GOP for the ongoing shutdown and that Speaker Pelosi has thrown the gauntlet down regarding the upcoming State of the Union address. Yet, a Democratic presidential victory in 2020 is by no means certain.

It’s exciting to see all the Democratic contenders — including women like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirstin Gillibrand — lining up for the race along with Julian Castro, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and others. Democrats must craft a message that keeps their traditional base happy while also appeasing the young liberal/socialist contingent, African-American voters tired of being ignored, and college-educated suburban women who are just reentering the fold.

Potential 2020 contender Sen. Corey Booker will bring his message for change to New Orleans on Friday as part of Inspire NOLA’s MLK Weekend Rally for Excellence. Booker always makes an impressive presentation that outlines his personal story and encourages others to take control of their future.

To win in 2020, Democrats must forge a path through America’s heartland to those blue collar Midwestern states where voters still support President Trump. Although Democrats made great gains in Congress during the mid-term elections, they suffered a net loss of two Senate seats. Democrats do well in big-population states on the coasts, but fail to inspire voters in economically declining, sparely populated states. Without correcting this problem, Democrats could once again win the popular vote, but lose the Electoral College and thus the presidency.

The ongoing dispute for a border wall is certainly troubling to Republicans. It has become a “must win” issue for a President who hasn’t had too many big wins recently. That won’t stop the GOP from forging ahead to claim thousands of state and local seats in 2019 and beyond. The Southern Republican Leadership Conference- and sister events around the country – is designed to set the stage for all those victories.


Ever since the late Jim Monaghan acquired Molly’s at the Market in the 1960s (when Decatur Street was less than desirable), the bar has been a welcoming late-night watering hole for New Orleans media types and politicians. Councilmen Joe Giarrusso and Jason Williams continue that tradition this evening by serving as honorary bartenders. Join them for a fun-filled event of politics at its best — 1107 Decatur beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Jared Brossett and Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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