From presidential to congressional to Metro Council seats, candidates for various offices spent Saturday campaigning are all in a mad dash for victory in the final days before Tuesday’s elections.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, is challenged by a bevy of little-financed candidates in the 1st Congressional district, which covers suburban New Orleans and much of the north shore, but also stretches down to Terrebonne Parish.
Scalise faces two people he has soundly beaten in the past: Democrat M.V. “Vinny” Mendoza and No-Party candidate Arden Wells, both of Ponchatoula. Also challenging Scalise are two political newcomers in Republican Gary King, of New Orleans, and Galliano resident David “Turk” Turknett, who is not affiliated with any political party.
Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond also faces opponents with little financial backing. Redistricting in 2011 to account for shifts and sluggish growth in population now has the 2nd Congressional district in New Orleans stretching up the Mississippi River to inner-city neighborhoods in north Baton Rouge.
Richmond is facing off against four opponents with little financial backing in Dwayne Bailey, a Republican from Donaldsonville; Gary Landrieu, a Democrat and cousin of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Sen. Mary Landrieu; Caleb Trotter, a Libertarian political newcomer; and Josue Larose, a Republican who lists a New Orleans address but mailed in his qualifying papers from Florida and has not responded to numerous phone messages.
The other big vote in New Orleans is over the Crescent City Connection bridge and whether to continue the system of bridge tolls. The decision is whether to keep the toll charges of $1 per vehicle, or, with a toll-tag, 40 cents.
Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said he expected a strong 70 percent voter turnout on Tuesday, which would be up from 67.2 percent four years ago.
While Schedler said he would like to take some credit for improved voter outreach efforts, he said driving factors were the strong growth in early voting and the “intensity” of the presidential race that has President Barack Obama in a closely run race with Republican candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
“I just think the intensity of the voters is stronger than ever,” Schedler said about the nation divided between Obama and Romney. “It’s like a cat on a hot tin roof.”
Early voting was 21 percent higher than four years ago with more than 340,000 people having already cast their ballots, he said.
Runoff elections on Dec. 8 will show a “huge dropoff” in voter turnout without a presidential election, Schedler said, but voter participation could still be strong.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who lives just outside the gates of LSU, was among several candidates taking advantage of campaigning Saturday amidst the massive LSU-Alabama tailgating scene.
“This is a nice pre-election climate,” Cassidy said of the LSU tailgating scene. “We’ve been working a grassroots campaign the past three months. This is one last great crowd. It’s mixing business and pleasure.”
Cassidy’s 6th Congressional district curls through south Baton Rouge, the city’s suburbs and into Terrebonne Parish.
He is challenged by two little-funded Baton Rouge residents in Libertarian Rufus Craig and No Party candidate Richard “RPT” Torregano.
The toughest congressional race in the state pits incumbent U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, against each other to represent southwestern Louisiana in the 3rd Congressional district because of redistricting. Louisiana is losing a congressional seat because of a lack of population growth. The other contenders are Democrat Ron Richard, Republican Bryan Barrilleaux and Libertarian Jim Stark.
Pearson Cross, who heads the University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science department, said the most likely scenario is that Boustany and Landry will continue their nasty race for another month in a runoff.
While that is the “most likely scenario,” Cross said, there is a chance Boustany could barely win with more than 50 percent of the votes, and there also is the possibility that Democrats will stick with Richard and push him into a runoff with Boustany.
“But anything below 40 percent (of the vote) is very problematic for Boustany,” Cross said.
The other factor is how much support will Boustany win from Democrats. Boustany has said along he is courting Republicans, independents and “conservative Democrats.”
But, again, the minority vote in the district could decide things, Samuels said.
Boustany is reaching out to some black ministers in the district for the first time in a few years, Samuels said, indirectly quoting them, “ ‘I haven’t heard from my congressman in five years and now he needs some support.’ ”
For instance, the Lafayette-based United Ballot political action committee that sends push cards in minority neighborhoods is endorsing both Obama and Boustany for re-election. United Ballot officials did not respond to phone messages.
But Landry said he also is reaching out to everyone in the district with a focus on “working-class people” regardless of race and sex. “Our campaign reaches out to everyone,” he said.
Landry, a freshman congressman, is predicting a runoff and he said the choice is “pretty easy” if people do not think they are better off after eight years of Boustany in Congress.
Landry said he is pushing that message through Tuesday and beyond. “Do some door knocking and sign waving. Calls, calls, calls — pushing all the way through Tuesday.”
Boustany trekked to the Giant Omelette Celebration on Saturday in Abbeville and continued on the campaign trail.
“I’m going to continue to work as hard as I can shaking hands until the final seconds run off the clock,” Boustany said.
The message is, he said, “If you want conservative leadership you can trust and get the job done, then I’m the guy.”
Boustany said he is “very confident” he will win outright on Tuesday.
As far as reaching out more to Democrats and others, Boustany said he has always helped constituents on Social Security, Medicare and veterans issues and that he continues to make inroads in the minority communities. “That kind of outreach takes time,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”
U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, is opposed in the 5th Congressional district by Libertarian Clay Grant, of Boyce, and Ron Ceaser, a No Party candidate from Opelousas.
Five candidates are vying to replace outgoing state Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge. Republicans Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, and a former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, state Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, have raised the money.
Other candidates in the running are Baton Rouge Republican Sarah Holliday, New Orleans Democrat Forest Wright and Thibodaux resident Greg Gaubert, who does not have any party affiliation.
In the Baton Rouge-based District 5 seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court, there is a pool of eight contenders.
Four of the candidates are judges on the First Circuit Court of Appeal: Democrat John Michael Guidry and Republicans Toni Higginbotham, Jeff Hughes and Jewel “Duke” Welch. Two others are judges on the Baton Rouge-based 19th Judicial District Court: Republicans William Morvant and Tim Kelley.
Also, there is prominent Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who is running as a Democrat, and Jeffry Sanford, who is a lawyer running as a No Party candidate.