In Louisiana, as every schoolchild knows, the politics are as zesty as a bowl of gumbo.
Helping to sustain that cliché in recent days are two members of the state’s congressional delegation, both involved in challenging re-election campaigns: Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister.
Landrieu’s moment came during the tailgating outside Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge before the LSU football game Sept. 20. Landrieu paused while working the crowd to assist in a “keg stand”: She held open the spigot from a beer keg in the mouth of a guy who drank the beer while doing a handstand atop the keg, with the help of some friends supporting his legs.
The keg stand, Wikipedia tells us, “is particularly popular as part of student drinking culture in the United States.”
Also popular culturewide in the U.S. are smartphone cameras and the Internet. Landrieu was photographed in the act from several angles, and the images promptly went viral.
Republicans were not amused.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge gastroenterologist who is Landrieu’s leading Republican challenger, frowned on the celebration of the stunt, invoking the dangers of binge drinking and alcohol abuse.
Landrieu was unrepentant.
To her Republican critics and others, she said, “They need to get a sense of humor, and they need to get a life — it’s just the way we roll.” The “gentleman” keg-stander, she said, is a 28-year-old with a master’s degree in business, fully capable of making his own decisions.
It’s too early to tell, but should Landrieu surge in the polls and ride to victory, her contest with Cassidy may forever be known as the keg-stand election.
McAllister’s recent contribution to the state’s political lore involves an affair of a different sort.
As a great many of the grown-ups in Louisiana know, McAllister besmirched his reputation in a major way last spring, when a security camera in his congressional district office in Monroe captured him in a lengthy and passionate smooch with a woman who was not his wife. That video, too, went viral.
McAllister had been elected just months before, to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, who had resigned for a state job. A self-made millionaire businessman, McAllister invoked his commitment to Christianity and family in his runoff campaign against the favored candidate of the Republican establishment.
When the video surfaced online, high-ranking Republicans in Louisiana and Washington called on McAllister to resign. At first, the “kissing congressman” said he would remain in office, but that he would not run for re-election this fall. Then, on June 30, he announced a change of heart and declared for re-election.
But what, absent the lip-lock video, would be an easy stroll to a second term has turned out differently. McAllister’s highest-profile supporters in 2013 — the Robertson clan, of “Duck Dynasty” reality-TV fame — have abandoned him, endorsing a relative instead. Polls show McAllister is struggling to break free of the “Duck Dynasty” candidate and a pack of other Republicans.
McAllister has released a new campaign commercial with his wife, Kelly. Sitting at her husband’s side, she says, “I’m blessed to have a husband who owns up to his mistakes, never gives up, always fighting for the good people of Louisiana.”
The basic “stand-by-your-man” script is not new: Other wives have stuck with politician husbands guilty of moral lapses, including Wendy Vitter, wife of Louisiana’s other U.S. senator, David Vitter; Silda Spitzer, wife of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer; and even Hillary Clinton, first lady for ex-president Bill Clinton.
True to the form, McAllister’s “other woman” was missing from the scene. But what distinguishes his situation is that she is not a prostitute, as with Spitzer and, reputedly, with Vitter, nor a young, single staff intern, as with Clinton. McAllister’s other woman is the wife of a couple who were longtime friends of the McAllisters — a woman whose husband has said that the scandal “has wrecked my life” and destroyed their marriage.
So the fundamental question about Louisiana politics remains: seafood okra or chicken andouille?
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC.