David Vitter and John Bel Edwards are making a public push to make sure that their voters show up on election day, with the Nov. 21 runoff date rapidly approaching.
Vitter, a U.S. senator, hopscotched around south Louisiana on Saturday, beginning with a Coffee and Tea Party Patriots Rally in Kenner. Edwards, a state representative from Amite, missed a campaign event in New Orleans because “he’s under the weather,” said his spokeswoman, but his troops rallied there and in Baton Rouge. (He was seen popping throat lozenges at a forum Friday.)
Edwards also is pumping up enthusiasm among African-Americans, who form the base of the Democratic Party. He visited five African-American church services in New Orleans last Sunday morning and got standing ovations after speaking to congregants at each one. He will visit several African-American churches on Sunday in Monroe.
On Saturday, about 125 people came to the sunlit Kenner City Pavilion to hear Vitter and several warmup speakers.
Doug Weber, a New Orleans real estate agent wearing an NRA baseball cap, stood by one of the round tables before the event began.
“It’s important that we keep Louisiana a red state,” Weber said, when asked why he’s supporting Vitter.
Mary Cassard, a retired secretary who lives in Metairie, shrugged off a question about an episode that, according to polls, has driven many women away from Vitter: his 2007 admission that he committed a “very serious sin” with the D.C. Madam.
“He’s asked for forgiveness from his wife, his family and God,” Cassard said. “If they can forgive him, who are we not to? We should move on.”
When the speakers began to fire up the crowd, Bob Reid, a spokesman for the Tea Party of Louisiana, asked everyone to make sure they get 10 friends to vote for Vitter.
“We need to take that message across Louisiana over the next seven days,” Reid said.
“Let’s get the job done and vote for Vitter,” Rob Maness, a tea party favorite who lost in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary, added a few minutes later.
Vitter, wearing a red sweater and blue jeans, was upbeat and optimistic, even though all polls show him trailing Edwards in the polls, mostly by 10-20 points.
Vitter said he is confident that voters are learning that, in his words, Edwards is a “pro-Obama liberal” while he is a “Louisiana conservative.”
After contrasting his record with Edwards’, Vitter returned to the mission at hand: “We need to get every vote out, and we’re depending on you to do that.”
From Kenner, Vitter went to campaign events in Covington, Denham Springs and Gonzales, and he said he would end the night in Acadiana.
Meanwhile, African-American elected officials organized a Get Out The Vote effort in Baton Rouge’s Galvez Plaza, next to the old State Capitol, one of several in the capital city on a chilly Saturday morning.
It seemed sparsely attended at any given moment, but a steady stream of people stopped to hear a song or two played by the Southern University Human Juke Box Marching Band, shake hands with legislators, metro councilmembers and union leaders and then go to the voter registrar’s office on the second floor in the parish government building.
Renee Singleton, an Edwards supporter, came on crutches. She said it was easier for her to take an elevator up to the voter registrar’s office than to hobble up to her regular voting precinct.
“We want to make sure that we can get it done,” Singleton said.
She added that Edwards’ unexpectedly strong showing has energized her and her neighbors. Democrats — and most black voters who will vote for the Democratic candidate — haven’t elected one of their own statewide since 2008.
“I mean, he could win, you hear what I’m saying?” she said. “The fact that David Vitter isn’t going to walk away with it, well, now we have sense that our vote is going to make a difference.”
State Rep. Regina Barrow, a Democrat who represents inner-city neighborhoods in north Baton Rouge, said the mood of her constituents has improved dramatically since Edwards finished first in the primary.
“Now you can see it in the people,” in their eyes, their smiles, their countenance, Barrow said as she led a group of voters to the registrar’s office. “They’re just so optimistic.”
During a break, Southern Band member David Jackson carried his trumpet with him to the second floor and cast a ballot. Jackson, who started voting in 2013, said he hasn’t missed a chance to exercise the privilege.
His friend, Brendon Guerin, said the importance of voting has been drummed into them since elementary school. “I feel like Louisiana needs a change and this is where I can say that in a way that makes an impact,” Guerin said. “Every vote counts.”
The Democratic Party has tapped Ben Jeffers, a former party chairman, to oversee its GOTV effort.
One person who won’t be assisting, Edwards said, is former Congressman Cleo Fields, even though Fields was part of the contingent that flew with Edwards on a private plane to a fund-raiser in Washington two weeks ago hosted by political consultant James Carville.
Fields, who lost the 1995 governor’s race to Mike Foster, was videotaped two years later stuffing $20,000 into his pocket that he had just received from Edwin Edwards, who was under federal surveillance. The purpose for the cash has never been explained publicly.
“He was invited as someone else’s guest,” John Bel Edwards said. “That doesn’t give him a role in the campaign.”
Get Out The Vote efforts have become increasingly sophisticated during the digital age.
Both sides are using lists of who has voted in recent elections — while noting their party registration — and cross-referencing that data with where they live and whatever consumer preferences of theirs are available from digital sites or other places.
The campaigns then use phone banks, door-to-door canvassing and social media to reach likely voters for their candidate.
“Their goal is to touch a potential voter as many times as possible for Election Day,” said Ryan Cross, who was the campaign manager for Scott Angelle, the Public Service Commissioner who finished third in the primary.
John Couvillon, a pollster and demographer based in Baton Rouge, is projecting the turnout in the runoff to be 42 percent to 45 percent, based on the early-voting figures over the past week. The primary turnout was 39 percent.
Mark Ballard of The Advocate Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter @TegBridges. For more coverage of the governor’s race, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.