Two dozen candidates, the largest field in at least 35 years, are running for a U.S. Senate seat for Louisiana – including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who on Friday became one of last to sign up.
Qualifying ended Friday for the Nov. 8 election to replace Sen. David Vitter, who is stepping down in January. The runoff between the top two vote-getters is Dec. 10.
It’s the most crowded field for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana since the state started keeping digital records in the early 1980s. Candidates for the soon-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat, the six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, two seats on the utility-regulating Public Service Commission, and two seats on the Louisiana Supreme Court paid filing fees and signed the paperwork to get their names on the ballot.
Tea party Republican Rob Maness, fresh from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, also showed up Friday morning with a cup of coffee in hand to join the U.S. Senate race. He was long gone by the time Duke arrived near lunchtime.
The huge number of opponents left Duke undeterred; he said he has more name recognition than all the others. The 66-year-old Republican said he would run to represent the interests of white "European Americans" because people of other ethnic groups already have champions.
Duke ran for the U.S. Senate in 1990, receiving 43 percent of the vote in a loss to incumbent U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston. He ran for governor in 1991, unseating incumbent Gov. Buddy Roemer, a fellow Republican, in the primary before being swamped in the runoff by Edwin W. Edwards.
That was the high water mark of Duke's political career. Subsequent bids for Congress and for president failed to bring in anywhere near the 671,009 votes he received in 1991, and he pleaded guilty in December 2002 to felony tax fraud.
After Duke served his sentence, he moved to St. Tammany Parish and registered to vote as a Republican.
On Friday, party officials responded strongly to his entry into the race.
“The Republican Party opposes, in the strongest possible terms, David Duke’s candidacy for any public office,” Roger Villere, chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana, said in a prepared statement. “The Republican Party of Louisiana will play an active role in opposing David Duke's candidacy.”
“That’s the best endorsement I can get,” Duke responded.
When Maness showed up Friday, he talked about foreign affairs, saying the failure of Congress to officially declare war in the Islamic State is a cause for terrorist attacks in the United States.
“Political leaders are responsible,” Maness said. “They have the power to declare war.”
Maness, a retired Air Force officer, attracted more than 200,000 votes and came in third in 2014, the last race for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana.
The leading Republicans in the race are U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, and John Fleming, of Minden, along with State Treasurer John Kennedy, of Madisonville. Boustany and Fleming had more than $2 million of cash available for the campaign on July 2, according to federal disclosures. Kennedy had $1.3 million.
Democrats who raised about a million dollars for the race are Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans attorney and counsel for a regional airlines. Lafayette oil and gas executive Josh Pellerin said he’s willing to spend $1 million of his money on the race.
Also qualifying to run for the U.S. Senate Friday were Beryl Billiot, No Party-Kentwood; Joseph Cao, R-Harvey; Troy Hebert, No Party-Jeanerette; Gary Landrieu, a Democrat from New Orleans; Bob Lang, NoParty-Natchitoches; Charles Marsala, R-Metairie; perennial Democratic candidate Vinny Mendoza, of Ponchatoula; Kaitlin Marone, No Party-New Orleans; Abhay Patel, R-New Orleans; Arden Wells, another Ponchatoula resident but running without party affiliation; Peter Williams, a Democrat from Lettsworth; and Donald Crawdaddy Crawford, R-Covington.
In all, seven Democrats, nine Republicans and six without a party affiliation have signed up to run for the Senate. The Libertarian Party also split its vote with two candidates: LeRoy Gilliam, of Washington, La., and Thomas Clements, of Lafayette.
U.S. House races
The race to replace Congressman Boustany in southwest Louisiana's 3rd congressional district likely will be another competitive race in the fall.
Clay Higgins came close to missing qualifying because of plane delays getting out of Cleveland, where he attended the Republican National Convention. The former St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy – currently a marshal in Lafayette – is widely known for his tough-talking “Crime Stoppers” episodes on TV news in Acadiana.
Including Higgins, eight of the 3rd District candidates are Republicans: Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge; Bryan Barrilleaux, a physician from Lake Charles, Greg Ellison, who owns an oil and gas company in Lafayette; Brett Geymann, a former Lake Charles legislator; Gus Rantz, who runs a health care company in Lafayette; Grover Joseph Rees, a longtime congressional staffer and former U.S. ambassador from Breaux Bridge; and Herman Vidrine, of Lafayette.
The two Democrats running are Jacob “Dorian Phibian” Hebert, an artist and musician from Lafayette; and Larry Rader, who sells insurance in New Iberia.
Libertarian Guy McLendon, a computer technician from Sulphur; and Kenny Scelfo Sr., no party affiliation from Breaux Bridge, also have signed up to run.
Eight candidates qualified to run for the northwest Louisiana 4th Congressional District, the seat being vacated by Rep. Fleming, another of the Senate candidates.
All the incumbents seeking reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives picked up opponents.
U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the state’s highest ranking congressman, drew five challengers to his reelection. The Jefferson Republican represents suburban New Orleans in the 1st Congressional District.
The challengers are Green Party member Eliot Barron, of New Orleans; Lee Ann Dugas, D-Kenner; Danil Ezekiel Faust, D-New Orleans; Howard Kearny, a Libertarian from Mandeville; Chuemai Yang, who is running without party affiliation from Kenner; and Dr. Joe Swider, a New Orleans psychiatrist who is running as a Democrat.
Congressman Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, will face off against Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, both Democrats, and two others in the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches up the Mississippi River to include predominantly minority neighborhoods in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The other two contenders are Kenneth Cutno, D-New Orleans and Samuel Davenport, Libertarian-New Orleans.
Republican U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who represents the Baton Rouge-based 6th U.S. Congressional District, picked up five opponents in his first reelection bid: Bob Bell, a Baton Rouge Republican who ran against Graves in 2014; Richard Fontanesi, Libertarian-Baton Rouge; Devin Lance Graham, who worked on the campaigns of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, qualified to run without party affiliation from Prairieville; Richard Lieberman, a Democrat from LaPlace; and Jermaine Sampson, D-Norco.
First-term incumbent Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Rayville, picked up another Republican as an opponent, Billy Burkette, who is the police chief and on the council of the Louisiana Band of Choctaw in Pride. The 5th Congressional District covers much of northeast Louisiana and stretches along the Mississippi line of the Florida parishes to Bogalusa.