State Treasurer John N. Kennedy appears to be in a commanding position to become the next U.S. senator of Louisiana, just days before the Dec. 10 runoff election.
After about a year of flooding, police shootings, murdered whores, and a comeback bid by a f…
Polling, early turnout voting figures and interviews with political insiders around the state indicate that Kennedy, a Republican, is poised to defeat Foster Campbell, the veteran Democratic politician who is an elected member of the state’s Public Service Commission.
The winner Saturday will replace Sen. David Vitter, a Republican who chose not to seek a third term after losing last year’s governor’s race. The winner will be the 50th senator ever in Louisiana, according to the Senate Historical Office in Washington. Because of Louisiana’s unique election laws, it is the year’s final Senate election and will determine whether Republicans have a 51-49 or 52-48 advantage in the Senate next year.
Campbell campaign officials warn against counting out their candidate. They note that Campbell outraised Kennedy, $2.5 million to $1.5 million, during the most recent campaign finance reporting period, buoyed by Democrats nationwide who want to deny Republicans another victory after the party’s sweep Nov. 8.
Campbell campaign officials say they will have enough money to win over voters and are conducting the most modern get-out-the-vote effort ever seen in Louisiana, with phone calls, direct mail, texts and door-to-door canvassing.
“We have a very strong message from a well-liked candidate that we will be able to target at likely voters,” said Mary-Patricia Wray, the campaign’s spokeswoman.
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who chairs the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, pointed to the conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton would be elected president when he told 25 Kennedy supporters Monday that they must not let up their efforts before Election Day.
“I would point out there was a presidential candidate three weeks ago who had a lead in the polls,” Wicker told the throng in Metairie. “We got our vote out, and they didn’t.”
The question of turnout is especially important because the race has failed to galvanize voters.
The Secretary of State’s office is projecting that only 35 percent of registered voters will vote in the runoff, compared to the 67.8 percent turnout on Nov. 8.
Political insiders cite “the fundamentals” in giving Kennedy an inherent advantage over Campbell. As in other southern states, Louisiana has turned steadily Republican over the past 40 years.
Since 2011, Republicans have held a majority in both the Louisiana House and state Senate, for the first time since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.
Since 2008, Republicans have won 15 of 17 statewide races in Louisiana, and today Gov. John Bel Edwards is the only Democrat holding statewide office, after his long shot victory last year.
Mary Landrieu was the other recent victorious Democrat when she won re-election in 2008, but Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican, ended her political career in 2014.
Here’s more evidence of the Republican advantage: In the Nov. 8 Senate primary, with a 24-candidate field, Republicans won about 60 percent of the votes, when Kennedy ran first with 25 percent and Campbell finished second with 17 percent.
In making the runoff, Kennedy bested four highly publicized Republican candidates. He knocked out two members of the U.S. House (John Fleming and Charles Boustany), a hard-charging conservative (Rob Maness) and former a Ku Klux Klan leader (David Duke).
Even though Kennedy is heavily favored, the national Republican Party has poured resources into Louisiana in recent weeks, topped by Saturday’s visit to New Orleans by Vice President-Elect Mike Pence.
Pence said he and the president-elect support Kennedy “100 percent.”
“By electing John Kennedy your next senator, you're going to put an exclamation point at the end of a great American victory in 2016,” he said.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has opened 10 field offices throughout the state, staffed with officials from the NRSC, the National Republican Party and the state party.
Not to be outdone by the Democrats, Republicans have their own set of high-tech ways to target their likely voters, many of whom they identified during Cassidy’s strong 2014 showing, said Jason Doré, the state party’s executive director.
“We feel really good about the spot we’re in,” Doré said, adding that he’s seen no sign of the national Democratic Party helping the Campbell campaign. The state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did not return calls for an interview.
In general terms, the Democratic formula for winning statewide office calls for their candidate to get at least 90 percent of the black vote and 30 percent of the white vote and for African-Americans to constitute at least 30 percent of voters. But during the seven days of the early voting period, which ended on Saturday, African Americans accounted for only 24 percent of voters, according to demographer John Couvillon.
Democrats in Louisiana appear to be facing a lack of enthusiasm from African-Americans, who usually account for 70 to 75 percent of their voters.
African-Americans accounted for 28.5 percent of voters in the Nov. 8 primary, demographer Couvillon said, and he expects their overall turnout in this election will be even lower, based on the early voting figures.
“Foster Campbell’s task has gotten that much harder,” Couvillon said.
State Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, said the election of Donald Trump, despite losing the popular vote, has dispirited many black voters.
“With Democrats in general and African-Americans specifically, we’re suffering from a Trumpian hangover,” Glover said. “I and others are trying to say that the best response is to vote and encourage others to vote as well.”
State Rep. Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans, also is encountering discouraged constituents after Trump’s victory.
“It kind of took the helium out of the balloon,” Harris said.
The only recent independent poll, taken by Baton Rouge-based Southern Media & Opinion Research, showed Kennedy leading 52 percent to 38 percent among likely voters.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Kennedy holds a comfortable 14-point margin over his D…
Wray said the poll undercounted Campbell’s support because many black voters who will ultimately choose her candidate identified themselves as undecided. But a closer look at the numbers shows that reallocating 90 percent of the undecided black voters in the poll yields only a couple more points for Campbell.
Verne Kennedy, a Pensacola-based pollster who surveys for a group of business people in Louisiana, didn’t even bother taking a poll during the runoff.
“Based on earlier research I did, I don’t see a clear way for a Democrat to win,” Kennedy said. “I’m not saying it’s impossible. But something earth-shaking would have to break.”
Campbell is betting that the 12 percent of voters who supported Democratic attorney Caroline Fayard in the primary will vote for him, as part of his winning strategy.
Fayard said she has not campaigned for Campbell, after endorsing him, because no one has sought her help.
“I’d be willing to help if they needed me,” she said.
If Campbell is worried, he’s not showing it publicly.
“I’ve always been able to get the crossover vote,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I have a lot of people that know I represent working people. I have a lot of people know that I’ve worked very hard for the environment.”
Like Edwards, his biggest supporter, Campbell is pro-life and pro-guns. He ends his most recent television commercial by shooting a Browning Over-Under shotgun.
Campbell, 69, favors changing federal law to raise the minimum wage, give equal pay to women and to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Kennedy, 65, switched to the Republican Party at age 55, in 2007. A 2004 article quoted him as saying he no longer supported abortion, but in an interview he said he had never held that view. In 2004, he endorsed then-Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president. He’s been a fervent Trump supporter this year.
“I have been very, very consistent,” Campbell said, “nothing like my opponent, Mr. Kennedy, who has been the poster child for inconsistency, flip-flopping, debate dodging, whatever you want to call it.”
Kennedy favors repealing Obamacare — in an ad currently airing he says it “sucks” — clamping down on illegal immigration, building the Trump-inspired wall on the Mexican border and ending unspecified “bailouts” for those “at the top” and “handouts” for those “at the bottom.”
“You couldn’t find two candidates more unalike,” Kennedy said recently.
In recent days, Kennedy has been like the football coach who with a big lead in the fourth quarter chooses safe running plays. He’s mostly stayed away from the press.
Louisiana voters likely won't get a chance to see the two candidates left in the U.S. Senate…
Asked where Kennedy has been campaigning lately, spokesman Cole Avery said only, “John has been campaigning across the state.” He declined to say anything further.