Though all of Louisiana’s incumbent congressmen seeking another two-year term drew opponents, only Acadiana’s U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins’ race is being called competitive – but that’s not really accurate, experts say.

A former car salesman, Higgins had a brief career in law enforcement that included accusations of police brutality along with popular Crime Stoppers segments for local television news. What made the segments popular was Higgins threatening criminal suspects being sought by police while brandishing automatic weapons.

Trash talking helped the Higgins’ video segments go viral on the Internet and contributed to his 2016 upset of Public Service Commission Chairman Scott Angelle, the odds-on favorite coming off a close run for governor. But, these days in light of the protests following the killing George Floyd by a police officer, such braggadocio could prove something of political liability.

They have other issues, of course, but the ongoing protests over racial injustice played at least some of the reasoning for the three challenging Higgins’ third term in the Nov. 3 election: Rob Anderson, D-Sulphur; Braylon Harris, D-Lake Charles; and Libertarian Brandon LeLeux, of Lake Charles.

Other than the U.S. Senate race, Anderson points out, the contest for the 3rd Congressional District has attracted the most attention from a Democratic Party that largely has written off Louisiana.

“Police violence is an issue playing against my views as a Libertarian, probably the biggest issue,” said LeLeux, a restaurant manager. “We need somebody who has strong principles for liberty.”

Higgins tough-talking, law and order milieu was effective – and popular – for its time, says Harris, who heads the Calcasieu Parish youth mentoring program, which is supported by law enforcement.

“The foundation of decency and civility is cracking. Different times call for different talents,” Harris said. “We’re at a point in our society where we need negotiations and diplomats.”

Nevertheless, Higgins remains as popular among one segment of voters as he is unpopular for others, said G. Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. He’s seen very little in the way yard signs and with COVID-19 requiring social distancing, almost no forums, lunch meetings or festivals.

“Clay beat back a pretty strong effort last time. And he’s not changing that strategy: not raising much money, not campaigning much and not reaching out to anyone but his base, who have been very loyal to him,” Cross said.

In 2018, Higgins won a second term against a field that included the Democratic candidates Anderson and Judge Mimi Methvin, as well as Republican Josh Guillory, who was backed by Rudy Giuliani and went on to be elected mayor of Lafayette in 2019. Higgins won in the primary with 56% of the vote.

Cross’s opinion about Higgins fate in 2020 is shared by national political handicappers who also consider Higgins’ seat safe, despite the talk in Democratic circles. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, at the University of Virginia, for instance, pegged the 3rd District seat as “solid Republican.”

More than half the 3rd District voters live in either Lafayette (31%) or Lake Charles (25%). The rest are scattered across the mostly rural southwest Louisiana parishes.

Of the 505,721 registered voters on July 1, only 24% – 121,770 – were Black and 35% – 175,248 – were registered Republicans. Both groups are among the smallest percentages in the state.

But in 2016, when Higgins upset Angelle, more than two-thirds of Acadiana voters, 67.3%, backed Donald Trump as president, a majority that rivaled the overwhelmingly white and Republican 1st Congressional District of Rep. Steve Scalise. In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received 66.1% of the Acadiana vote.

Higgins hasn’t received much criticism from the business community, which dominated Republican politics for years and tends to be more moderate in their conservatism than the congressman has been.

Higgins has voted against the federal Affordable Care Act and for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Higgins responded to an March 2018 editorial by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who argued for gun restrictions, by implying that the 98-year-old Republican scholar needed to muster his “bad ass socialists” supporters and when he does they should get their affairs in order. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center included Higgins on its list of the nine members of Congress who “traffic in hate and extremism.” This year the congressman is threatening to sue Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards for requiring state residents to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

A proxy was sent to Baton Rouge last week to sign up Higgins to run for a third term in the Nov. 3 election. He didn’t respond to requests for comment. But in emails to supporters, Higgins has said he is fighting to protect the rights of the 3rd Congressional District residents. “The left keeps pushing their socialist agenda as our country fights to recover from the setbacks of COVID-19,” he wrote.

Higgins has been ardent supporter of President Donald Trump. And much of the money Higgins has raised has come through the White House’s WinRed online fundraising platform.

Higgins has raised almost $600,000 and still has about $232,000 of cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. Anderson is his only challenger to show having raised any money at all – at least to this point. And the Democrat had raised only about $50,000 and reported a little less than $30,000 on hand.

Without much money, Anderson said he will rely on social media to remind voters that other than attracting attention, Higgins has done little for the people of Acadiana, and hopefully build upon his 5% of the total vote in the 2018 election. Anderson has more than 100,000 Twitter followers and holds regular sessions on Facebook.

Higgins has done nothing to remediate damage of abandoned oil wells, he’s approved a tax cut for the rich, and Lake Charles is still waiting for a new Interstate 10 bridge, Anderson ticking off the points on his fingers. Anderson describes himself as a former oilfield driller who has read a lot of books.

Education, economy, infrastructure, and criminal justice are among the challenges, Harris said. “We have a pandemic right in front of us. We have social issues right in front of us. We need to work from priorities and be effective and efficient,” Harris said.

ULL political scientist Cross says despite the rhetoric, the 2020 race for the 3rd Congressional District isn’t really about issues but about personalities. Each candidate is playing to their base supporters.

“I don’t think Higgins has expanded his base. He’s just focusing on his own crowd,” Cross said, and if history is any guide, that’s really all he needs to win a third term.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.