Six of the seven major candidates for Louisiana's open U.S. Senate seat are backing their party’s presidential nominee, with only Foster Campbell declining to say whether he’ll support Hillary Clinton, the Democratic standard-bearer.
“This is a race about Louisiana,” Campbell, a Democrat from Bossier Parish who is a member of the Public Service Commission, said in an interview. “Talking about Hillary Clinton distracts people.”
Campbell declined to commit to supporting either Clinton or Donald Trump, the Republican Party nominee.
Caroline Fayard, the other major Democratic candidate, had no hesitation in voicing her support for Clinton, the former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady.
“Secretary Clinton is very qualified, is confident and has a viewpoint on the challenges that face the country,” Fayard said. “She has been tested.”
Fayard noted that, with her family having ties to Arkansas, she has gotten to know Bill and Hillary Clinton through her father, Calvin, a prominent trial attorney from Denham Springs. Caroline Fayard interned in Hillary Clinton’s office during Bill Clinton’s second term in the White House, and her father hosted a fundraiser for Clinton in January in New Orleans.
Asked whether she differed from Clinton on any issues, Fayard said she opposes allowing women the right to have an abortion and supports building the Keystone XL pipeline that would connect Canadian oil with refineries in Texas.
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The five major Republican candidates all said they support Trump, whose controversial comments have caused many well-known Republicans elsewhere to distance themselves from him.
“It’s unusual to find unanimity among the Republican candidates,” said Ed Chervenak, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans. “This is a safe state for Republicans, so it’s safe to endorse Donald Trump. He has a high probability of winning the state.”
Political experts estimate that Trump will carry Louisiana with about 58 percent of the vote on Election Day, Nov. 8.
Chervenak said Clinton’s unpopularity in Louisiana probably explains why Campbell is not endorsing her.
“He’s running a localized campaign,” said Chervenak, noting that Campbell is establishing his Democratic bona fides more through the endorsement of the state’s top Democrat, Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Along with the five major Republican candidates, Troy Hebert, the leading independent candidate in the race, also strongly endorsed Trump.
“We tried the politicians in Washington,” said Hebert, who spent 15 years in the Legislature representing a district near Lafayette. “That didn’t work out. Why don’t we try a businessman?”
The views of the eight candidates solicited by The Advocate on their presidential choice could help voters begin to differentiate among them in a race with a total of 24 candidates.
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The Senate race has attracted little public attention, even with less than 60 days until the Nov. 8 primary to replace Sen. David Vitter, who announced on the night that he lost last year’s governor’s race in November that he wouldn’t seek re-election to a third Senate term in 2016.
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Based on polling, money raised and support in past elections, the newspaper chose to seek interviews with eight of the 24 candidates. All but David Duke and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany agreed to the interviews.
Rob Maness, a former colonel who has not held elected office, voiced perhaps the strongest support for the Republican nominee.
“It didn’t even take a second thought about endorsing Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton,” Maness said in an interview. “One of the most important jobs as a U.S. senator will be confirming Supreme Court judges. I couldn’t see myself confirming any justices nominated by Hillary Clinton. Also, President Trump is going to secure our border. That is something I can help do in the United States Senate. By building that wall, we will stop illegal immigration.”
State Treasurer John Kennedy, who is the front-runner according to polls, said he agrees with Trump on a number of issues, including opposition to limiting purchases of guns, to abortion and to the health plan revamp known as Obamacare.
Asked where he differed from Trump, Kennedy cited Trump’s opposition to having the federal government bar funding to Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions and provides health care to poor women.
Kennedy also objected to Trump having said of U.S. Sen. John McCain, “I like people who weren’t captured.” (McCain spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War.) “We should honor our P.O.W.’s,” Kennedy said.
In another difference, Kennedy said he favors a tax plan that gives greater benefits to the middle class, as opposed to Trump’s plan, which he said favors the wealthy.
U.S. Rep. John Fleming also expressed strong support for Trump in an interview.
“He wants to bring lawfulness to our borders," said Fleming, a family doctor from Minden, east of Shreveport. “I agree that we should not have sanctuary cities. He has a rational immigration policy to follow the laws we’ve had for a long time. I agree that while we should have trade with other countries, it should be an even playing field or we should at least be equally competitive with our competitors.”
Asked how he differs from Trump, Fleming replied, “I’m sure we have some disagreements, but I can’t think of one offhand.”
Duke, a white supremacist who lost the 1991 governor’s race to Edwin Edwards, said in a written statement that he is supporting Trump “because he is championing issues that I brought forward decades ago. I was right about these issues then, and I continue to be right regarding these issues today.”
What issues Duke was referring to was not made clear.
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Duke is so notorious nationally, given his past leadership of a Ku Klux Klan faction, that Trump has disavowed his support.
Boustany, a heart surgeon from Lafayette, also offered a written statement in support of Trump.
“We need a leader that will strengthen our national security, grow our economy and protect the values that made this country truly great,” he said. “Hillary Clinton would continue the Obama legacy of weak foreign policy and national security, a stagnant economy, and she would nominate liberal justices that could tip the balance of the Supreme Court for a generation.”