Like the politician he is, State Treasurer John N. Kennedy deflected questions about his interest in running for the U.S. Senate next year by saying Louisiana is tired of political campaigns.
On this one point, Kennedy and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who is also considering the same pursuit, are simpatico. Both Big Dog Republicans are waiting until after the holidays to decide whether they will be part of unleashing yet another high-powered political campaign on the Louisiana public.
Voter fatigue is understandable. The state has been under siege by wanna-be political leaders since, at least, April 2013 when Baton Rouge Congressman Bill Cassidy announced he would challenge the re-election of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Cassidy won in November 2014. Then the race for governor began in earnest with the first forum in January 2015.
Now, with David Vitter announcing he’ll step down from the U.S. Senate at the end of his term in January 2017, at least a dozen have announced that they’re either running or — like Kennedy and Angelle — seriously considering a bid in the Nov. 8 election.
“Windows of opportunity only open up every so often; but they don’t always match up with your life. Still you got to look at it seriously,” said state Sen. Eric LaFleur, the head of the upper chamber’s Democratic Caucus. He’s considering the race too, but has to figure how to juggle a yearlong campaign that will cost tens of millions of dollars while raising three children under the age of seven.
“It may feel early, rightly so, to many people; there’s been no interruption in the elections calendar,” said political scientist G. Pearson Cross. But candidates need to be organizing their staffs and start fundraising right now if they want to have a serious shot come summer.
This time last year, for instance, Angelle scored no more than 2 percent in statewide polls. In October, he came within 4 percent of knocking Vitter, who was once considered a shoo-in, out of a runoff spot.
Angelle’s name now is known to almost nine out of every 10 registered voters in the state, and he has a 9-point lead on Kennedy and Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, if the election were held today, according to a Market Research Insight poll. (Yes, there are already horse race polls.)
Republicans, who splintered into factions shortly after becoming the state’s dominant party, have even less control over which of their candidates run now that the brands of Vitter and Gov. Bobby Jindal have been tarnished.
“We are likely in an era where there are three Republicans, like in the governor’s race,” stated the analysis accompanying the MRI poll conducted by Verne Kennedy on behalf of a group of New Orleans-area businessmen, including John Georges, co-owner of The Advocate.
Last week, Boustany, of Lafayette, officially announced his bid for the Senate. The week before, fellow Republicans Congressman John Fleming, of Minden, and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, of Mandeville and who came in third in 2014 Senate race, had both jumped in.
Mandeville state Rep. Paul Hollis, who ran briefly in the 2014 race, also says he is considering a run.
Republican PSC Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, of Metairie, posted a letter on his Facebook page announcing that he would form an exploratory committee. Former Congressman Joseph Cao, R-Harvey, emailed his supporters that he would run.
One publication said Jefferson Parish President John Young was looking at the race, while another quoted Duck Dynasty cousin (and ex-congressional candidate) Zach Dasher saying he was waiting until after Christmas to make a decision. Both are also Republicans.
In this year’s governor’s race John Bel Edwards tore a page from Vitter’s strategy book. Vitter was the only Republican candidate in the 2004 Senate race while Kennedy, then a Democrat, and Congressman Chris Johns split the Democratic Party’s vote. Edwards nailed down the state Democratic Party’s endorsement in late June and for much of the gubernatorial campaign stood off to the side while the three major GOP candidates pummeled each other.
State Democratic Party officials are hoping to do the same thing again for the U.S. Senate race by rallying around a single candidate.
PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish, said he’s considering whether he wants to take a stab at being that candidate. Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy and Caroline Fayard, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, are rumored to be interested. State Sen. Gary Smith, of Norco, has talked with the national Democratic Party about possibly running.
There are probably a half dozen other candidates out there putting pencil to paper. All of which seems a depressing way to spend Christmas.
Angelle agrees with that assessment too. He says he’s going duck hunting.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com and is on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. Follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.