Josh Pellerin is angry.
The Lafayette oil man is running for his first public office on the advice of the president of the United States. He’s spent upward of $300,000 so far, and is ready to drop twice that amount, maybe more, in the next 45 days before the Nov. 8 election.
Pellerin is one of the 24 candidates seeking to replace Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter. And not being on the “A” list has been frustrating for Pellerin.
Unlike campaigns of yore, where public forums that were often open to all candidates littered the calendar, this Senate race favors small, invitation-only gatherings.
Like two-thirds of the candidates in this race, Pellerin, a Democrat, is left behind when the guys holding the clipboards lift the velvet rope. Only a half-dozen candidates are regularly let into the VIP area, and none of them are particularly charismatic or famous. It’s just that by virtue of having run before — when they expressed their views at public forums — they are marginally better known and thus score better on the polls that are used to provide the access to forums, debates and media coverage.
The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana averaged the results of four unidentified polls to decide that six candidates would be allowed to participate in its Oct. 6 forum at LSU.
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Pellerin points out that the other two-thirds of the candidates usually aren’t included in polls, particularly in the surveys sponsored by supporters of a candidate, but hawked as independent.
“What it does is it doesn’t give me any credibility. If they don’t acknowledge me, I don’t exist,” Pellerin said. Hence, his arguments for raising the minimum wage and strengthening highway infrastructure as a way to improve the economy and increase employment go unheard.
“Really, we need to have a conversation around who is paying for the polls and who is deciding what’s going to be put on the polls and what’s not, and why,” Pellerin said.
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Regardless of who pays, the take-away from all the polls is that “undecided” leads every time, Pellerin said. The Southern Media & Opinion Research survey, released Wednesday, found the voters who haven’t made up their minds – 26.2 percent or about one out of four – firmly lead this race. Among the named candidates, State Treasurer John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, led with 16.9 percent or roughly one of every six voters.
Southern Media's is one of very few polls to include Pellerin (he scored a barely visible 1.7 percent) and five of the other 18 also running, along with the six leaders. Pollster Bernie Pinsonat said they chose candidates who have been elected officials or run statewide races before or had filed federal documents showing they were raising significant money for this campaign.
The Southern Media survey poll was conducted on behalf of a group of subscribers, rather than a specific organization. One of the subscribers was Beth Courtney, who is president and CEO of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, which airs the most prestigious debate of the campaign season, co-sponsored by the Council for A Better Louisiana.
For the 90-minute debate, which will be televised statewide on Oct. 18, they’re looking for contenders, measured by 5 percent support in “recent and recognized” polls along with having raised $1 million or more.
“We want to have a meaningful debate and cover topics in depth,” Courtney said, adding that invitations will go out soon. “If you have so many who are not viable candidates, then you can’t have a conversation that has much substance.”
In addition to the expense – LPB will have to hoof equipment to Ruston for the event – televised debates also carry the possibility of tarnishing a media outlet’s carefully polished reputation. Recall the blistering WDSU took last October when the New Orleans station acceded to the demands of including minor candidates in its gubernatorial forum, then watched discussions fixate on same-sex marriage and marijuana use, instead of the state’s budget problems.
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Louisiana Democratic Party strategists and researchers sat down last week to discuss why so few forums have taken place or are being scheduled in comparison to previous elections, said Stephen Handwerk, the party’s executive director. They pretty much came down to the theory that the hosts just can’t get their hands around two dozen candidates.
“I think they are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to be an independent arbiter, but at the same be fair and not be chastised right off the bat,” Handwerk said. “But, it puts us in a pickle. For our candidates to get out there and spread their message in a contrasting light, they need these venues.”