For sheer entertainment value, two runoffs for congressional seats in the Baton Rouge area may prove somewhat disappointing.
The 5th District is based in north Louisiana, although it runs down the Mississippi River as far as St. Francisville, and then across part of the Florida Parishes as far as the Pearl River. More significantly, the 6th District — centered in the city and its suburbs of Ascension and Livingston, is the traditional seat for a Baton Rouge-based congressman.
Both see runoffs on Dec. 6. Can we stay awake that long?
In the 5th District, the voters unkindly ejected the incumbent “kissing Congressman” Vance McAllister. Instead, a physician named Ralph Abraham is the Republican favorite, opposed, probably in vain, by Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a black Democrat.
McAllister finished with 11 percent of the vote, prompting the insightful political observation that a Baptist-majority district did not like his video smooches with a woman other than his wife.
Yes, there remains a spot of color in the 6th District runoff, but it is an illusion, for the chances of Edwin Washington Edwards making a real race out of his runoff spot appear to be slim. Perhaps Mayo might have a better chance than the four-time governor and ex-con.
“From a straight entertainment value, I would have liked to see an Edwin Edwards and Lenar Whitney runoff,” political scientist Pearson Cross told the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday.
Garret Graves, you are no Lenar Whitney.
Graves won the all-important race for Republican second place, well ahead of Whitney, the Houma-area state representative who ran fifth despite getting some traction among the more fundamentalist tea-party voters. Unhappily, her backing from “pro-family” extremist Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, did not rally enough crackpots of the “anti” caucuses — anti-gay, anti-evolution, anti-global warming, anti-everything else. (Perkins was neither a queenmaker in Whitney’s race, nor a kingmaker in the U.S. Senate race, having backed tea-party Republican Rob Maness, who finished out of the money.)
The third-place finisher in the 6th District, young businessman Paul Dietzel II, was himself well behind Graves’ 27 percent. Still, a respectable 14 percent suggests Dietzel might have a political future, by losing credibly enough to make his mark.
But despite Edwards’ trademark series of one-liners for the next couple of weeks, Graves definitely has a political future.
Cross, who teaches political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, gave Edwards little chance in a 6th District drawn to be among the most Republican in the country. Even dipping down into bayou country where Whitney is from, the district is largely white and conservative — and the Cajun voters who boosted Edwards’ career in the 1970s long ago abandoned him.
“I think he has some residual appeal,” Cross said. “It’s just that they don’t want him to be their congressman.”
No one should underestimate Edwards’ political acumen, and he doubtless will go on the attack. He probably will seek to link Graves, the former coastal restoration official, to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is not quite as unpopular in the polls as President Barack Obama.
That probably won’t matter: Graves has worked on Capitol Hill, including as an aide to former Edwards ally Billy Tauzin, later a Republican congressman. Graves is unlikely to be rattled by Edwards’ inevitable attacks; there is not likely to be much in the way of hard feelings among Republican voters, despite the knocks thrown around among the Republicans in the primary race.
And if partisans of the other candidates do not warm to Graves, they are even less likely to embrace EWE, who may be his own worst enemy in terms of cross-party appeal. Meaning, he doesn’t have any.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.