Campaign 2016 Debate

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton following the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Julio Cortez

A tight election, a little more than month away, can mean only one thing to Louisiana Republicans: Road Trip!

Regardless of how shaky his debate performance was last week or how sketchy his trade policies might be for Louisiana’s economy, this state is so securely behind the Donald that the Louisiana Republican Party can head to the beach.

They’ll be staying at the Hilton Pensacola Beach for a couple of days of door-to-door canvassing, hoping to boost turnout for Donald Trump in a deep red section of a state that voted Democratic blue in the last two presidential elections.

Actually, this is happening around the country as party faithful in “safe” places are moving to nearby states still in play to bulk up a presidential bid that is famously running with a skeletal staff and little-to-no “ground game.”

“We’re set up. We’ve done what we can do” in Louisiana, said Woody Jenkins, who heads the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish and co-chairs Trump’s efforts in this state.

So what happens to the U.S. Senate race while the cream of Louisiana’s GOP activist corps tromps sandy streets in Florida?

Probably very little.

Though Nov. 8 is only 36 days away — early voting begins Oct. 25 — the race between 24 candidates for an open Senate seat remains remarkably unformed.

That’s one reason for all those “we’ve got the momentum, time to join the winning team” narratives that campaigns peddled last week. Even the polls paid for by the candidates themselves, which inevitably show the benefactor leading the pack, have margins of error that indicate a virtual tie between five, maybe six, contenders.

GOP apparatchiks are largely all over the board in their support, which is one big reason why the state party is waiting to see who makes the Dec. 10 runoff before jumping in, according to Jason Doré, executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party.

Last time around, it was all hands on deck when the nationals saw a chance to unseat a Democratic incumbent and swing the Senate’s majority to the Republicans.

“In 2014 our focus was Mary Landrieu,” Doré said. “We had a mission to take her out and Bill Cassidy was our man. In 2016, we’re replacing a Republican; it looks like a safe seat.”

Largely that sinecure has diverted partisan interest. The fight this time around is whether Democrats can win enough of the 34 Senate races on the nation’s Nov. 8 ballot to retake the majority in Congress’s upper chamber.

Over the summer, progressives were giddy over the prospect of gaining eight, no 10, Senate seats. As autumn temperatures fall so have the grand predictions, said Jennifer E. Duffy, who is analyzing Senate races for The Cook Political Report, one of the more influential insider tip sheets for political professionals. Democrats will be lucky to pick up four or five seats — still enough for a slender majority, but just.

The widely expected down-ballot drag from Trump’s blustery ballast never materialized, Duffy said. “He hasn’t helped candidates. He hasn’t hurt candidates. It’s like these races are operating in silos.”

Sure, everyone is running as an outsider this cycle — particularly in Louisiana. But the true outsiders — that is, candidates making their first foray into elective office — have gained little traction in this state and others. Part of it is because the outsider candidates haven’t been as charismatic as Trump. They’ve failed to grab the media’s and the public’s attention.

“We haven’t seen the establishment punished by voters in any way,” Duffy said.

Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat says he can paint a plausible scenario for any one of the top half dozen to win a spot in the runoff.

What if U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, the Lafayette Republican, extends his advantage in Acadiana by 10 points to 60 percent of the voters? It’s hard to believe that wouldn’t be enough to make the runoff. Or maybe Robert Mercer, the single largest funder of and a backer of Republican upstart Rob Maness, of Madisonville, helps make a massive television buy? It might mean that the first televised debate in which the tea party favorite will be allowed to participate will be in the runoff.

“I’ve got a dozen scenarios and each one of them is plausible,” Pinsonat said.

“Whoever breaks free in the last couple weeks will get into the runoff.” That’s all he will allow with any certainty.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.