Sunday, August 21, 2016

Race of the Day- Louisiana U.S. Senate

78 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Republican/Tossup (Fleming)

It's definitely a Jungle out there in the Bayou in 2016. The identity of the next United States Senator from Louisiana is nothing but a guessing game, considering the peculiar nature of the state's election system. What is more known is that the next Senator is probably a Republican, but will not be known until after a December 3rd Saturday runoff. The only hope Democrats have is to somehow hope the November all-party primary has a result goofy enough to advance two Democrats. If that were to happen, one of those Democrats might possibly say they will caucus with the Republicans in the Senate, just to assure enough votes to win the election, but this scenario would be a very bad one for Republicans. Instead, a more possible outcome is that two Republicans will advance to December, which will put quite a spotlight on the GOP for the first skirmish of the post-Trump era in the party. If a traditional result occurs, a Republican will face a Democrat, and the conservative nature of the state would point to a GOP hold.

Of course, Republicans have not won all recent runoffs in Louisiana, and that is a reason an incumbent is not on the ballot this year. In 2004, David Vitter became the first Republican to be sent to the Senate from Louisiana since Reconstruction. He was fairly easily reelected in 2010 in spite of some ugly stories about his personal life, and in 2015 set his sights on the Governorship. If elected, he would have been able to name his own replacement to the U.S. Senate. He was favored to win, but cracks in party unity, plus a very unpopular GOP Governor, plus the revisiting of his past scandals, caused a very difficult situation for Vitter, especially after one defeated Republican primary opponent stayed silent, and the other one endorsed the Democrat. Thus, it was a Democrat, albeit one who is very socially conservative who easily beat Vitter in the runoff. The Senator has been stuck ever since in a job he had hoped to shed, but quickly made it clear that he would not run for reelection in 2016. Considering the fall of Vitter's political career, this was seen as a good thing for the GOP.

A slew of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have filed to run for the Senate in Louisiana, and all will appear on the November ballot. As mentioned, since nobody stands a chance of hitting 50 percent of the vote, the two two contenders, regardless of party will advance to a December runoff. I will just be mentioning the most prominent names in the jungle.

Two Republican Congressmen, both physicians, were the first to jump into the fray. If either is elected they will join their former GOP House colleague and fellow physician Bill Cassidy in the United States Senate from Louisiana. Charles Boustany has been in Washington since 2004 , is expected to be well-funded, an is regarded as somewhat of a national establishment preference. That may not turn out to be a good thing in the current political environment. John Fleming was elected to the House in 2008 and has many prominent social conservative endorsements.

John Kennedy, not to be confused with a former President, is the longtime State Treasurer. In 2004, he ran for the Senate, back when he was a Democrat, as perhaps the most left-leaning candidate in the race, but he eventually joined the GOP, and also failed in a 2008 Senate bid. He has been leading some all candidate polls, largely because of his name recognition (which may be related to his longtime elective service or possibly because he shares a name with the nation's only Catholic President, in a very Catholic state.) Kennedy seems to have support of many veteran pols in Louisiana.

Rob Manness, a retired Air Force Colonel is running again, after having first sought the office in 2014, and is not someone to be counted out. He has much Tea Party support and is seen as an outsider candidate.

Then, there is David Duke, a late entrant into the race. Few politicians in recent American history have been as controversial. A one time Grand Wizard of the KKK, Duke has run for office, including for President, over the years as a Democrat and an Independent, but unfortunately won his only office, for State Representative as a Republican. In 1990  he was the lone "Republican" to seek a U.S. Senate seat and a year later, he advanced to a runoff as the top "Republican" in a race for Governor. Members of the GOP that year, from the White House on down, all renounced Duke that year and urged nobody to support him. While has he claimed to have long since cut ties with the Klan, Duke's political philosophy of white nationalism is hardly distinguishable from them, although he has advocated conservative beliefs that are otherwise considered in the mainstream (as well as a left-wing foreign policy that would go along well with the Progressive wing of the Democrat Party).

In 2016, Duke is running as a Donald Trump Republican, stating that the current GOP nominee is more in line with his beliefs and thinking than any candidate before. Months ago, before Duke became a Senate candidate, Trump was not quick to denounce Duke's support. He later claimed he never heard of him, which is ludicrous itself, especially since Trump rightly denounced Duke, in detail, back in 2000. He later formally said he denounced Duke, but also made some headlines more recently when he said he possibly support a Democrat over Duke in the Louisiana Senate race, "depending on who the Democrat is." Duke actually liked the statement, saying it signaled that Trump would find him preferable to a liberal. All other Republican candidates in this field, and many throughout the country, have gone much further, saying that Duke cannot be supported under any circumstance. The RNC signified that they would do nothing to help Duke if he were to advance to a runoff. If supporting Duke is a step too far for the RNC and others, I just really wonder, why Trump then?

In any event, despite his name recognition and niche support on the alt-right internet, I do not expect Duke to come close to making the runoff this November. If he does, the GOP has even more problems. I think he will finish in the back of the pack, along with former Congressman Joe Cao, a Vietnamese born refugee, who amazingly won a New Orleans special election  several years back against an opponent with criminal problems. Cao went to Washington, became the only Republican to vote for Obamacare (at least in some capacity), and then was roundly beaten in a traditional election in an overwhelmingly African-American and Democrat Congressional district. Perhaps he thinks running for Senate this year will help his law practice.

Now, a quick look at some of the top Democrat contenders for Senate. Foster Campbell, a former State Senator, and current Public Service Commissioner ran for Governor in 2007, and made a few bids for Congress decades ago. He is somewhat in the political realm of the current conservative Democrat Governor of Louisiana, and happens to have the endorsement of John Bel Edwards.

Attorney Caroline Fayard ran for Lt. Governor in 2010 and is now seeking the Senate seat as I believe the only female major party candidate. She made it to the runoff in her previous race and cannot be counted out this time, as her liberalism might be the most in line with Louisiana Democrats. Businessman Josh Pellerin is also in the field. He is just in his mid-30s and appears to be conservative on many issues.

Perhaps the biggest Democrat wildcard in the field though may be Gary Landrieu, a building contractor who has run for several offices in the past few years. He of course shares a surname with a famous political institution in Louisiana Democrat politics and is a cousin of the recent Democrat U.S. Senator and the current New Orleans Mayor. They do not seem to be supportive of any of his political efforts and Gary Landrieu would not likely even be talked about if not for his last name.

So, what will happen in November? If I voted there, I would probably vote for Boustany, but would have to give everything some closer thought. I would be most inclined to go with the most anti-Trump Republican possible in the field. As long as Louisiana wants to have this crazy system though, which actually does much to weaken the institution of the parties there, I hope two Republicans finish in the first two spots. My hunch is that Kennedy, Fleming, and Manness may be the most likely. If a Democrat advances, it will either be Campbell or Fayard. If it is somehow both, the 69 year old Campbell probably wins the runoff easily. I would also consider any of the major Republicans (with the exception of course of Duke) to be solid favorites over either of the Democrats.

I think Kennedy might wind up as the top vote-getter in November, but then be the underdog in the runoff. It will all depend on how Fleming would do with his Evangelical base or how Maness would do with his Tea Party supporters. Maness might beat Kennedy in a runoff, but I think Fleming would be at least a slight favorite to win over enough second round voters against either Maness or Kennedy.

When all is said and done, a Republican will probably emerge in December but your guess is as good as mine as to just how this is going to play out between now and then.

Senate races predicted thus far:
5 D (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans)
12 R (4 Safe, 5 Likely, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup)

Overall predicted thus far: 41 D, 42 R


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