Seven candidates in Louisiana’s open U.S. Senate race spent time appealing to their bases in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
Democrats Foster Campbell, Caroline Fayard and Josh Pellerin stumped at the Democratic State Central Committee meeting at the Renaissance Hotel, while across town, Republicans John N. Kennedy, Charles Boustany, John Fleming and Rob Maness attended a crawfish boil hosted by Americans for Prosperity.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, announced last fall that he would not seek re-election to the Senate after losing the governor’s race — leaving a rare opening in the statewide race.
While a couple hundred people sucked heads and pinched tails at the crawfish boil, Maness and Kennedy talked about how they’re not part of the Washington establishment. Fleming and Boustany focused on their accomplishments in Congress.
“Many members of the United States Congress are good people. I just haven’t figured out what they’re good for,” Kennedy said, working the line in at every opportunity. “The United States Congress has done a lousy job.”
Fleming didn’t disagree. “I voted against that nonsense,” Fleming said when asked about federal budgets that include deficit spending. (Louisiana’s Constitution requires that government spending be balanced with available revenues, an amendment all four Republicans said they want to add to the U.S. Constitution.)
But Fleming said his repeated “no” votes got him into trouble with the congressional hierarchy who were too willing to go along with the status quo. That’s why he helped oust GOP House Speaker John Boehner. He repeatedly mentioned his role in the coup against Boehner, eliciting applause each time.
“I’m the only person on this stage who hasn’t voted on this stuff,” Maness said of complaints about the federal budget. “But what’s needed in Washington is real-world leadership because the votes aren’t getting the job done. You can’t just be a good voter to get the job done. You need to lead from the trenches.”
Boustany asked the crowd if they liked the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care program. The crowd caterwauled.
“I am the only person on this stage who has done anything about it,” Boustany said, reminding the crowd, several times, that all the outsider rhetoric was fine, but they should focus on someone who has actually accomplished something.
His go-to example was the CLASS Act, which allowed workers to pay a monthly premium, then be eligible for a benefit to help pay for long-term care. He said he found the premiums actually would help fund what many call “Obamacare.” He sponsored legislation passed by Congress that stripped the $80 billion program from the federal health care law.
The candidates dressed casually — no ties. Kennedy’s belt had a holster for his smartphone. Maness tucked a Springfield .45-caliber handgun into his jeans.
Kennedy, of Madisonville, has been state treasurer for the past 15 years and is making his third run for the U.S. Senate. Also from Madisonville, Maness was career military who attracted 14 percent of the vote in the 2014 race for the U.S. Senate, which was his first bid for public office.
Boustany is a cardiologist from Lafayette who has represented southwest Louisiana in Congress since 2005. Fleming, a physician from Minden, was elected in 2008 to represent northwest Louisiana in Congress.
On the Democratic side, Campbell is a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. He sells insurance and raises cattle in Bossier Parish. He has been in public office since 1976 and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2007.
“If you want someone who will fight for you, I’ll fight for you,” Campbell told the Democrat leadership crowd.
He said he would fight back against special interests in Washington.
Fayard, a New Orleans lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, stressed her “outsider” status as a selling point.
“I’m not running for this seat because I feel entitled to it,” she said. “I’m running for U.S. Senate because it’s a calling.”
Pellerin, of Lafayette, is the chief executive officer of Pellerin Energy Group. He had not formally announced his candidacy prior to Saturday’s meeting but attempted to position himself as a candidate who could appeal to supporters across party lines. He said he’s anti-abortion and pro-guns.
“I’m a conservative Democrat,” he said. “I can relate to the needs of common, everyday people.”
All the candidates will be on the same ballot in the Nov. 8 open primary. A runoff will take place between the top two candidates on Dec. 3 if no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote. The runoff can be between candidates of the same party, if they come in first and second in November.
Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.