Voters across Louisiana — a handful of them, anyway — will cast ballots Saturday in a mishmash of races, from regularly scheduled municipal contests in Orleans Parish to special elections to fill random unscheduled vacancies elsewhere.
These contests don't have much in common but pull back a bit and something of a theme emerges. Call it the "I am/am not with him/her election."
In race after race, significant attention has focused not just on the candidates, but with whom they associate and who associates with them.
It's happening in the New Orleans mayoral race, where one candidate, former Municipal Judge Desiree Charbonnet, has cornered the market on endorsements from politicians and political groups and has also absorbed the bulk of the attacks from outsiders.
One of the few identifiable storylines in an underwhelming New Orleans mayoral race has cent…
City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has locked up the big newspaper endorsements (not including The Advocate, which does not endorse candidates) and former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris is backed by the enviably titled Alliance for Good Government. But Charbonnet is the only candidate with a long list of big players in her corner, including the AFL-CIO, the local Democratic and Republican parties, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
She's also the only one with an army of deep-pocketed people out to stop her. While the exchanges between campaigns have been low temperature, at least until Wednesday night's testy final televised debate, two outside political action committees have been hammering Charbonnet, in some cases arguing that she's attracted so many insiders because she'd engage in old-school patronage, a charge she forcefully denies.
One group is fronted by trash and real estate magnate and reality TV figure Sidney Torres, who's appeared in so many ads — all attacking Charbonnet — that some voters might think he hadn’t taken a last-minute pass on the race himself. The other group took advantage of laws allowing its donors to stay hidden until last week, when it reported five-digit contributions from business community fixtures such as Leslie Jacobs, Jay Lapeyre, Boysie Bollinger and Lane Grigsby.
It's all enough to make you wonder not just what's up with her, but what's up with them.
Who's with whom has also been a dominant theme of the lone Jefferson Parish Council race. State Sen. Danny Martiny is a longtime presence in Baton Rouge, but he hasn't even appeared in some of his most memorable ads. Instead, television viewers have been treated to testimonials from former sheriff and longtime Martiny ally Newell Normand and Councilwoman-at-Large Cynthia Lee-Sheng, who channeled Martiny's long association with Norman's predecessor and her late father, former Sheriff Harry Lee. Less predictably, District Attorney Paul Connick joined Lee-Sheng in an ad to talk about Martiny's work in criminal justice reform.
If Martiny is eager to tout his connections, not so for his lone opponent, Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato, at least in one noteworthy case. Impastato has historically had close ties to Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, who survived a recall attempt following his sexting scandal but remains a marginalized figure, and at least some Martiny supporters want everyone to know it. Impastato has distanced himself and pointed out that he called for Yenni to step down.
In the only Public Service Commission race, three Republican candidates are spending time talking about the Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards. One, Damon Baldone, is a former Democrat whom Edwards appointed to the seat temporarily. A second, Dr. Craig Greene, backed Edwards in the 2015 runoff. That's given ex-legislator Lenar Whitney an easy opening to point out that she's the one candidate with no ties to the administration.
Things are a little more abstract among the leading GOP candidates in the state treasurer's contest. Angele Davis worked for former Gov. Bobby Jindal and for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu when he was lieutenant governor, but the name she keeps dropping is President Donald Trump's. Former state Rep. John Schroder is running an ad attacking Louisiana pols as a class. The most interesting figure here is state Sen. Neil Riser, an ideological conservative from North Louisiana, who is actively courting Democratic votes — and winning some unlikely endorsements from legislative colleagues and political organizations — in New Orleans, where the mayor's race is likely to bump up turnout.
Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party hasn't bothered to endorse the only Dem in the race, lawyer Derrick Edwards, because he isn't running a campaign. I guess that's one way to avoid all these complicated relationships.