By Hastings Wyman –
The wild-and-wooly campaigns that often accompany politics in this home state of Huey Long, Edwin Edwards and David Duke are not much in evidence this year as voters choose a successor to retiring US Sen. David Vitter (R). “It’s very, very quiet,” says political consultant (D) Trey Ourso, due mainly to “a lot of turmoil over the summer,” including the shootings in Baton Rouge and heavy flooding. “For an open seat, it’s been fairly quiet.”
If it’s quiet, it isn’t for lack of candidates. There are 24 people running in all, but not all of the contenders are equal. “We have a pretty competitive five-person Senate race in Louisiana,” says Associate Professor Joshua Stockley of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. “There are three strong Republicans and two strong Democrats,” says Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media and Opinion Research.
For the GOP, the strongest contenders are US Rep. Charles Boustany, US Rep. John Fleming and state Treasurer John Kennedy. For the Democrats, the top two are Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and 2010 nominee for lieutenant governor Caroline Fayard.
All candidates, from both parties, will compete in a combined “jungle primary” on Nov. 8. Then, if no single candidate gets a majority, the top two, regardless of party, will face off in a runoff on Dec. 10.
“I’ve seen four polls over the last few weeks and no one gets over 20%,” says Ourso. “I can put five names in a hat and pull out any two to end up in the runoff – two Democrats, two Republicans or one of each.”
In the last Southern Media & Opinion Research poll, taken Sept. 15-17, Kennedy led with 17%, followed by Boustany with 15%, Fayard 11%, Cambell 9% and Fleming 8%. Retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness (R) and former KKK leader David Duke got 3% each.
Dr. Silas Lee, a New Orleans-based sociology professor and pollster, notes that “Duke doesn’t have the visibility” that he’s had in previous campaigns. “People are not paying attention to him,” an indication of change in this Deep South state.
In the money chase, as of the July filings, Republicans were easily outraising the Democrats. Boustany came in first; he had raised $4,339,000, with $2,188,000 cash-on-hand. Fleming raised $3,225,000, with $2,410,000 on hand. And Kennedy raised $1,766,000, with $1,384,000 on hand.
On the Democratic side, the top two were fairly evenly matched. Fayard raised $1,117,000 and had $634,000 on hand; Campbell raised $999,000 and had $868,000 on hand.
The one exception to a fairly quiet campaign – so far – was the publication of a book accusing Boustany of association with prostitutes, which came out just a few days before the Southern Media poll. Boustany denied the allegations and has filed a defamation lawsuit against Ethan Brown, the author of the book, and Simon & Schuster, the publisher. However, the alleged scandal “has not hurt him at all,” says Stockley. “Boustany has such a strong and respected reputation that I don’t think that many people paid much attention to it,” adding that it has “not been big in the media.” Ourso agrees: “It’s not had a whole lot of effect to date. Nobody has run TV ads on it.” Kennedy has pressed the prostitution scandal against Boustany, but not in an attention-grabbing way so far.
Meanwhile, Boustany is especially strong in his South Louisiana 3rd District, including Lafayette and Lake Charles. “He seems to have consolidated his base as well as anybody,” says Ourso.
Kennedy, benefiting from a strong name ID from being on the ballot a number of times, has come in first in most polls, but not with a commanding lead. And Fleming is strong in North Louisiana, giving him a significant base
On the Democratic side, the support of African Americans is crucial. Black voters account for about 30% of the electorate in this state, and a much higher share of the Democratic vote. “Campbell has done a very impressive outreach to African-American voters, and so has [Fayard],” says Lee, who sees no consensus in the black community for either candidate. In general, Campbell has more organization support from African Americans. For example, he has been endorsed by the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, “A big coup for him,” says Ourso. Campbell is on television and probably benefits from Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) endorsement in the TV spots.
Fayard isn’t on television yet, although she is on African-American radio and social media. Fayard points out that Duke attacks her because she is a social progressive. She should also benefit from being the only woman in the race, especially if Trump’s sexist remarks continue to be in the headlines.
Both Democrats “really, really emphasize their support for a minimum wage increase and for equal pay for women,” says Stockley.
As for the impact of the presidential race, Pinsonat said – prior to the political and media storm over the video of Trump’s 2005 comments about pursuing women – “Trump will beat her by 12 to 16 points.”
As for the runoff, it’s anybody’s guess at this point. John Bel Edwards (D) won the governorship in part because the Republicans in that race attacked each other so bitterly
that they could not come together in the runoff. So far the campaigns have not yet inflicted major damage to party loyalty.
In addition, says Pinsonet, “If Hillary Clinton is elected president, it will make it hard for the state to send a Democrat to the Senate” in the December 10 runoff, which could ultimately decide which party controls the Senate.
In that event, the amount of national political money that flows to Louisiana could sink the state. Stay tuned.