At the end of 2014, heading into the campaign for Lafayette mayor-president, outgoing state Rep. Joel Robideaux had $335,000 in his campaign war chest. Heading into 2019, having served three years as mayor-president, he has less than $43,000 to launch a re-election bid.
There are some differences. The 2015 race had no incumbent as City-Parish President Joey Durel was term limited and Robideaux faced Durel's Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley. This time, Robideaux is the incumbent and incumbents are often difficult to unseat.
Pearson Cross, associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, finds Robideaux's lack of campaign money interesting.
"Forty-three thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket in terms of a competitive mayor-president's election for Lafayette Parish," he said Tuesday.
If a serious opponent enters the race, Cross said, it could take $200,000 to 300,000 to launch a competitive campaign.
Robideaux said several weeks ago he definitely is running for a second four-year term. He should be raising money for a campaign even if no one has announced, Cross said, because having a lot of money to spend sends a message to possible opponents that you're serious and committed.
"Joel's basically inviting people to run against him with this paltry amount of money in his campaign fund," Cross said.
The lack of campaign money could mean one of two things: Either Robideaux doesn't anticipate a strong opponent "or he's just not taking care of business," he added.
Robideaux said he's been "focusing on doing my job" instead of raising money for re-election.
"I've been at it long enough to know that when the time comes to raise money I've always had a successful fundraising campaign," he said.
Supporters are reaching out to help with the campaign, Robideaux said. He plans to host a large fundraiser after he delivers his annual state of the city-parish report March 14.
"I feel confident that I'll be able to raise sufficient money to run a great campaign," he said.
Annual campaign finance reports filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration show Robideaux had $335,000 in campaign money at the end of 2014. After his successful 2015 race, Robideaux had $57,834 on hand. Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016, Robideaux grew his campaign war chest to nearly $140,000 thanks to a boost of $204,500 in contributions less $122,611 in disbursements.
Coming off a strong 2016, Robideaux received only $12,000 in campaign contributions between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2017, records show. Meanwhile, he spent $101,000, leaving him with only $50,559. Records show he received no campaign contributions in 2018 other than a $35,000 loan.
While it may appear he has lost the support he had four years ago, Cross said, it's more likely Robideaux, for whatever reason, hasn't felt the need to raise a lot of money, at least not yet. Typically, he said, a politician would raise money every year to build up his campaign fund.
"This is especially surprising in light of the fact he has not had an incident-free tenure in office so far," Cross said. "There have been several missteps and problems along the way that might give opening for people to run against him. He's being awfully cavalier about his re-election."
With about six months until qualifying, no one has announced they're running against Robideaux, and time is running short for an opponent to raise money and put together a campaign team.
"Time is slipping away," Cross said.
One name mentioned as a possible candidate has been City-Parish Councilman William Theriot. Theriot, who can't seek re-election to the council because of term limits, has not confirmed whether he'll run for mayor-president. He did not return a call for comment on this story.
As of Dec. 31, Theriot had $48,199 in his campaign fund, which is more than Robideaux.
Qualifying for the Oct. 12 election is Aug. 6-8.