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As former State Rep. John Schroder, of Covington, left, and State Sen. Neil Riser, of Columbia, center, wait their turn, former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, of Baton Rouge, right, answers a question. The Press Club of Baton Rouge hosted three of the four candidates for the office of Louisiana Treasurer Monday Sept. 25, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.. Candidates speaking included three Republicans: former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, of Baton Rouge; State Sen. Neil Riser, of Columbia; and former State Rep. John Schroder, of Covington. One Democrat: New Orleans attorney Derrick Edwards was invited but did not attend.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

It has all sounded like a bad joke.

A Trump supporter, a gun advocate and a guy who wants to cut a third of the state budget enter the race for state treasurer…

Not to blow the punch line, but it ends with something like “and hardly anyone voted.” The election to choose a new state treasurer, by the way, is Saturday.

“A lot of people are going to walk into the voting booth and learn the names of the treasurer candidates for the first time,” said Professor Martin Johnson, who teaches political communications at LSU.

Johnson is being wildly optimistic. Only about 15 percent of the people who can vote are predicted to bother.

It’s a good bet that the bulk of those who do show up aren’t being driven by any hard-held opinions on cash flow management or debt administration. Perhaps because of the wonky nature of the job, the three major GOP candidates — one of whom likely will win in the Nov. 14 runoff — understandably focused their campaigns on narratives that have energized Republican voters in the past, rather than on the job itself.

But the dynamics in the GOP politics have changed.

“You’ve definitely got a splintering: factions of clear conservatives on fiscal values who see a role for government in public policy. And you’ve got the anti-establishment folks. We’ve seen this play out in Alabama and, well, a number of places,” Johnson said.

The Republican primary for a U.S. senator from Alabama was a fratricidal affair between a candidate backed by that state’s governor and a former chief justice on the state Supreme Court called the “Alabama Ayatollah” for trying to apply conservative evangelical convictions to law. Chief Justice Roy Moore defeated former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange on Sept. 26.

Candidates for treasurer are betting on which of the various stations of Republican orthodoxy will persuade the most chronic voters, those few who are expected to actually go to the polls. Those candidate strategies have played a large role in seeding disinterest in the race for the vast majority of voters, says G. Pearson Cross, who teaches politics at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “They’re taking plays out of a dated playbook,” he said.

Cross admits that his opinions are colored by December’s upset when a brash-talking, first-time candidate, Clay Higgins, defeated Scott Angelle, who had a résumé chock full of government postings, to become Acadiana’s congressman. Still, Cross contends the reality is many voters want to “drain the swamp” and don’t care about candidates trying to differentiate themselves through the passion issues of yore.

“Those positions aren’t creating any buzz,” Cross said.

Part of the problem is that all three of the major Republican candidates essentially are establishment politicians. To varying degrees, their government service gave them the basic tools necessary to do the treasurer’s work, which involves sorting through the deep weeds to determine if, say, the state is getting the best interest rate for some small fund among the hundreds of funds the treasurer tracks.

State Sen. Neil Riser, of Columbia, sponsored the legislation to protect Louisiana from courts trying to limit the right to carry guns. He’s also a heavy hitter in the Senate. And he probably lost his bid for Congress in 2013 because of the backlash from the boost Gov. Bobby Jindal gave him by calling a snap special election.

For all her bird hunting and support of President Donald Trump, former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis made her bones as a government technocrat. Two Republican governors and a Democratic lieutenant governor, who would become New Orleans mayor, took her calls. She drafted Jindal’s first two state budgets.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, former state Rep. John Schroder, of Covington, has been intimately involved in crafting state budgets over the past nine years. He even, at times, helped lead opponents of the tactics used to balance spending with revenues. He knows the struggles of cutting entitlements, like TOPS, among legislators who say state government spends too much but can’t quite bring themselves to do anything.

Still, “living within our means” decisions, over which a treasurer plays no official role, translates into cutting about a third from the state’s already diminished services.

“When nobody can depart from the normal script, it’s hard to differentiate yourself,” said state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, who was forced out of the race by chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.

“If nobody is brave enough to say anything different ,and they regurgitate the same ole comments about the state and its fiscal situation, it’s hard for people to get excited.”

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.