After about six months in office, U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister returned to work Monday, announced he would not run for re-election and turned this fall’s 5th Congressional District race into a “do over.”
“We call that a mulligan in golf,” said Roy Fletcher, a GOP political consultant.
Except that this time around, being a political outsider, known to voters only through family-values homilies, won’t carry the same cachet.
“People will be more open to candidates with political experience,” Fletcher said, adding that voters should know who is in the race fairly soon.
“You got to step up in the next month” to raise the money and support necessary to be viable, he said. Qualifying for the Nov. 4 race begins Aug. 20.
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, who had represented much of the district in Congress during the 1980s and early 1990s, said McAllister’s departure opens the field and likely will attract a lot of candidates. “Given Vance’s large/landslide win last November and his age, he could have held onto that seat for as long as he wanted, were it not for the scandal. I still think the 5th Congressional District is a Republican seat. It’s very conservative in a lot of ways, not only fiscally but on all the social issues as well.”
“The people of the 5th District of Louisiana need and deserve a voice in Washington,” said McAllister, R-Swartz, in a prepared statement released by his congressional office. “I am announcing that I will not seek re-election, but I will continue to be that voice and will uphold the office to which I was elected to serve for the remainder of my term.”
McAllister had been under pressure by top Louisiana Republicans to resign since admitting to inappropriate behavior earlier this month.
He had been caught by his office’s surveillance cameras kissing a married staffer. The incident took place about a month after he had won the election, running as a devoted family man who held conservative Christian values.
When the images of the lingering kiss were publicly released the week before Congress left on Easter break, McAllister said he would run again. He has spoken with House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP House leaders, but otherwise McAllister has kept a low profile since the security recording became public.
He made his announcement as Congress returned from its Easter holiday. He and his wife, Kelly, flew to Washington, D.C.
“I have taken this time to reconcile with my wife and kids, and I’m forever grateful for their support and forgiveness,” McAllister said.
“The past few weeks have been a trying time for my family. As I’ve said before, there’s no doubt I’ve made a mistake. I’ve failed those I care most about and let down the people who elected me to represent them. I take full responsibility for this personal failure, and I’m truly sorry for what I’ve done.”
“This is a positive development,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a prepared statement. “While we still believe the best course of action would have been for Congressman McAllister to resign so he can focus on his family, we are pleased Congressman McAllister and constituents in the district can begin the process of putting this unfortunate situation behind them.”
McAllister was elected in November to fill out the unexpired term of Rodney Alexander, who quit halfway through his two-year term.
Jindal’s top political strategist ran the campaign of state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who was favored to win but was beaten soundly by McAllister in the runoff. Riser chairs the state Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs and is a floor leader for Jindal.
Riser did not return calls Monday and quickly walked into secured areas, not open to the public, when reporters approached.
McAllister, who had never held public office before, ran a largely self-funded campaign that relied heavily on his friendship with the stars of “Duck Dynasty,” the reality TV program, with whom he attends church. McAllister’s campaign commercials featured him with his wife and five children. He didn’t ask for votes but for prayers.
McAllister spent $933,180 on his campaign, according to Federal Election Commission documents. He raised $176,990 in contributions.
He contributed $235,000 of his own money and loaned the campaign $420,000. He listed $8,425 remaining in the campaign war chest as of March 31, with outstanding debts of $602,275.
His personal financial disclosure showed he owned a number of businesses, but his income was $239,578 in salary in 2013 and he took out a personal loan valued between $100,001 and $250,000 in October.
In the runoff, McAllister won votes of Democrats by saying he opposed many of President Barack Obama’s policies, particularly the Affordable Care Act, but felt a successful congressman could work with opponents to better programs. His strategy ran counter to the U.S. House Republican members who voted to shut down the federal government to stop the funding for “Obamacare,” an effort supported by Riser and many others in the Louisiana GOP.
The mostly rural 5th District covers 24 parishes in northeast Louisiana, the central part of the state and the rural parts of the Florida parishes along the Mississippi state line, and favors Republicans. State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, a supporter of McAllister’s, said the 5th District requires successful candidates to straddle different political philosophies.
“The Democratic performance of the district makes it challenging terrain, so we will be focused on recruiting and backing the single best Democratic candidate for the district’s makeup,” said Kirstin Alvanitakis, communications director for the Louisiana Democratic Party.
State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere, who had demanded McAllister resign, said he looks forward to “a strong conservative candidate” to run in November.
State Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, who had run against McAllister, said he was unaware of the congressman’s announcement. “The issue was always, and should always be, the family. Politics is fleeting,” Hunter said.
He added that he would speak to some supporters in Monroe and decide whether he would run again.
State Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, who also ran in November, called on McAllister to resign immediately.
“We have some very serious issues going on,” Johnson said. “If he’s not returning the phone calls, he’s not talking to anyone. We need somebody doing the work.”
Johnson said he was considering running again but hadn’t decided.