MORGAN CITY — For decades, the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival and other fairs and festivals throughout Louisiana were regular stops for gubernatorial candidates.
Not any more.
Gov. John Bel Edwards waved at parade-goers from the head of a passing truck float in Morgan City on Sunday during the 84th annual Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. But the two Republicans challenging him missed the event, being held nearly six weeks before the Oct. 12 primary.
Blame the change on the rise of television ads and, lately, the importance of social media as a tool to reach out to voters.
Edwards and his two Republican opponents — U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone — have skipped most of the state fairs and festivals this year.
Abraham intended to come to Morgan City but instead attended a funeral in Alexandria for a soldier from his congressional district who died overseas, according to his campaign. He did have a jeep in the parade.
Rispone, meanwhile, preferred to worship at his church in Baton Rouge and not make the drive to Morgan City afterward.
Jeff Wright, treasurer for this year’s Strawberry Festival in Ponchatoula, noted that none of the candidates attended that event this year. “They’re missing out on people looking at them as citizens,” he said.
Michael Henderson, a professor at LSU’s Manship School, said candidates now mainly reach voters through their television ads and Facebook posts and ads.
“It would be a mistake to say that retail, face-to-face campaigning has disappeared, but it’s a smaller piece of campaigning,” Henderson said. “It’s partly affected by the changing technology. It’s easier to reach more people through digital and electronic media. This notion of meeting people face to face — there’s a charm to that. But there’s a limit to that.”
First Lady Donna Edwards waved beside her husband on Sunday as the float rolled down Second Street in Morgan City and the truck’s sound system played Geno Delafose’s “Chicken on the Run” followed by a Louis Armstrong version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Campaign volunteers aboard the float tossed blue Edwards to-go cups and cardboard fans.
“This is my most prized possession. It’s hot,” Peggy Fulker, a Morgan City resident, said with a laugh as she fanned herself after the governor and his krewe had passed by.
Before this weekend, the governor had attended only the Walker Percy Festival Weekend in St. Francisville.
Rispone, who is running a particularly TV ad-focused campaign, has attended only the 4th of July parade in the Baton Rouge neighborhood of Kenilworth and the Frog Festival in Rayne, said campaign spokesman Anthony Ramirez.
Abraham was at Bogalusa’s 4th of July parade, the Metairie St. Patrick Day’s Parade, the Gonzales Jambalaya Festival and the Gueydan Duck Festival, said campaign spokesman David Weinman.
"Ralph Abraham has attended more festivals, fairs and parades than his two main opponents combined, not to mention the dozens of meet-and-greets he has held throughout Louisiana," said John Vick, his campaign manager.
Upcoming events include the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival in New Iberia in late September and the Louisiana Cotton Festival, the Louisiana Cattle Festival and the Zwolle Tamale Festival. Candidates likely won’t attend the latter three events because they all occur on the same weekend as the gubernatorial primary.
(Chris Loupe, president of the Zwolle festival, remains upset with Edwards because he was scheduled to be the grand marshal last year but canceled at the last minute and sent Donna instead.)
Phil Preis, a Baton Rouge attorney, said greeting people on the campaign trail at festivals was the only activity he enjoyed when he ran for governor in 1995 and 1999.
“The money-raising was tough,” Preis said. “You had to stay in your office. The TV ads alone are a cold process. I don’t see how you want to be governor without going out and meeting the people face to face.”
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Edwards said he had a simple reason for being in Morgan City on Sunday. “Because there will be a crowd,” he said. “I don’t know where else to be. It’s a big deal.”
Also aboard a float in the parade was Oscar "Omar" Dantzler, a gubernatorial candidate from Hammond who is a Democrat.
The Shrimp and Petroleum Festival began in 1936 when the local port “received the first boatload of jumbo shrimp, fresh from the deepest waters ever fished by a small boat,” according to the festival’s website.
“Now ... the festival recognizes the working men and women of both the seafood and petroleum industries, which are the economic lifeblood of the area. The festival has been honoring those who work tirelessly through rain and shine ... and sometimes even hurricanes ... to provide the area’s economic lifeblood for over half a century.”
State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, who represents another portion of St. Mary Parish, said the festival is “a shot in the arm economically because people spend money over the weekend.”
Jones said St. Mary Parish is beginning to recover from a drop in offshore oil exploration after companies found that it was cheaper to produce oil by fracking elsewhere.
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This year’s event drew a crowd.
Children squealed with a mixture of fear and delight on a merry-go-round and other amusement park rides that included a Ferris wheel.
The Schriever Lions Club sold shrimp po-boys for $7 and jambalaya for $5. Another food stand offered a dozen boiled shrimp for $10 and a bag of cracklins for $4.
Kat Daddy’s Catering did a steady business selling a heart doctor’s nightmare known as a “shrimp explosion.”
“It’s fries with melted cheddar cheese with fried shrimp and bacon bits topped by ranch dressing and jalapeños,” explained Amanda Portier. “It’s so good. It’s 80% of our sales.”
John Bel and Donna Edwards ordered hamburgers from a stand at Lawrence Park that benefited Central Catholic High.
Afterward, they mingled with voters, including Carlo Gagliano, who was sitting in a portable chair in the shade of a tree.
“He got the teachers a raise (of $1,000 apiece),” Gagliano said approvingly, noting that he used to drive a school bus, and school bus drivers and other support workers also will receive a $500 raise.
Kirk Carpenter, who lives in Morgan City, said he hadn’t decided whom he will support but noted approvingly that Rispone created a million-dollar business as a contractor.
Other voters described only a hazy knowledge of the Republican candidates.
“I’ll probably vote for Abrams," said Ricky Segura, a retired oil field manager, referring to Abraham. "Or the other guy. I don’t remember his name.”
The story has been updated to note that Oscar "Omar" Dantzler also had a float during Sunday's parade.
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