Numbers in the polls may differ, but the one thing on which all the surveys agree is that, barring some miracle during the final six weeks of a heretofore tedious campaign, one of two Republican elected officials is likely to become Louisiana’s next U.S. Senator.
The two Republicans at the top the polls – U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., of Lafayette, and State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, of Madisonville – both talk about being outsiders, but both are longtime elected officials with extensive connections to the GOP establishment.
Reviewing five polls, data guru Nate Silver gave whichever Republican comes out on top in the Nov. 8 primary an 87.1 percent chance of prevailing in the Dec. 10 runoff between the two top vote-getters in Republican-leaning Louisiana.
Virtually nobody expects one of the candidates to break away and corral 50 percent of the vote in Louisiana’s unique primary in which all 24 candidates to replace retiring U.S. Sen. David Vitter will be on the ballot.
Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media & Opinion Research argues that his poll, released Wednesday, showed the primary race tightening into a “barnburner,” as Boustany, based largely on his popularity in Acadiana, closed the gap on the better-known Kennedy, who was favored by 16.9 percent of the 500 likely voters polled. Kennedy’s lead over Boustany, who scored 15.2 percent, was well within the survey’s 4 percent margin of error.
The U.S. Senate race is tightening with the top Republicans and top Democrats in a virtual d…
Democratic New Orleans attorney Caroline Fayard was the only other candidate to score in double digits, 11.4 percent, but her main rival, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell was at 9 percent.
The race has evolved into a series of mini-primaries, in which competing candidates are targeting specific segments of the voting population in hopes making the general election.
Boustany and Kennedy are competing for the largest faction, voters who lean towards restraint on fiscal issues, tradition on social issues and pragmatism on governing styles.
Kennedy, 64, grew up in Zachary. He went to Vanderbilt University, to the University of Virginia School of Law and also received a degree from Oxford University in England. A bond attorney by trade, Kennedy was special counsel to then-Gov. Buddy Roemer. Under Gov. Mike Foster, he was secretary of the Department of Revenue.
He has run for US Senate twice before and for Attorney General once, all unsuccessfully. He was elected state treasurer in 1999, an office to which he has been reelected four times. He switched to the Republican Party in August 2007, but backed Democrat John Kerry’s bid to become president in 2004, which has come back to haunt him on the campaign trail.
Boustany, 60, grew up in Lafayette. He went to the University of Louisiana Lafayette, then to LSU medical school in New Orleans. He was a heart surgeon for 30 years before being elected in 2004 to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The top two Republicans in the Louisiana Senate race are policy wonks, more milquetoast than maverick, relying on political pros, television ads on oil rigs and talk about family values. Both are buttoned-down insiders with deep knowledge into the complex world of funding government services – an expertise that doesn’t lend itself to bumper stickers.
Veteran campaign strategist Roy Fletcher, who is not involved in the Senate race, says the candidates need to differentiate themselves for the voters, something neither has been willing to do, so far.
“They have chosen to define themselves as good to their wives, as Christians, all the good things that don’t really tell the voter anything. But they don’t say what they’re for and more importantly, they’re not saying how they are different from the other guy,” Fletcher said.
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Boustany currently is running a television commercial in Lafayette, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and New Orleans as well as statewide on cable. The ad has Boustany at a crawfish boil where he talks about why he returned to Louisiana after his residency in New York, then says Washington is broken.
Boustany has spent more than all his major opponents put together – $2.2 million of the $4.3 million he has raised for the Senate race, while his seven major opponents have spent $1.5 million among them, according to federal disclosures.
Kennedy is preparing a spot that his campaign aides describe only as “positive.” He’s only spent $381,866 of the $1.8 million raised for this race, according federal disclosures.
Boustany said he entered the race knowing that Kennedy had strong name recognition across the state, by virtue of having run eight statewide races. His task is and always has been to expand statewide from his base in Acadiana.
“I focus on the results,” Boustany said. He came to politics from being a surgeon, which he said made him comfortable operating in an environment of “ruthless accountability” because human life was involved.
Kennedy, on the other hand, measures success by how much attention he brings to state fiscal issues, Boustany said.
For all the noise, Kennedy hasn’t been often able to translate his policy positions into legislation, Boustany said, adding, “People don’t want a showboat blowhard.”
While acknowledging Kennedy’s depth of knowledge on state financial issues, Boustany says a U.S. Senator must deal with a far more complex federal budget that is filled with entitlements and a complicated taxing structure.
As chairman of the oversight subcommittee of the tax-writing House Committee on Ways and Means, Boustany says he’s become something of an expert on the issues that drive federal fiscal policy.
The normally chatty Kennedy would not comment for an article looking at his run against Boustany, said his campaign manager, Kim Allen. Instead, she issued a statement in the name of spokesman Lionel Rainey III: "We are committed to running a positive campaign focused on the issues voters really care about, rather than worrying about another candidate."
In late August, speaking before the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee forum, Kennedy described America as having too many undeserving people at the top who are getting a bailout while those at the bottom get a handout and the people in the middle get stuck paying the bill.
He polishes his outsider status by recalling governors, both Democratic and Republican, he has skewered over the years. “I am not a member of the club,” Kennedy says repeatedly.
In 2014 he said the Jindal administration was using funny math to come up with a budget surplus. Kennedy refused to sign off on a bond issue, which would have raised money for infrastructure projects, arguing that to do so would have him swearing to a fairytale surplus that could open him up to fraud allegations.
“I’m afraid that we’re pretending we have a surplus when we don’t,” Treasurer Kennedy said then. “We actually have a $141 million deficit if we use the accounting method we’ve always used.”
Then Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols responded that Kennedy’s accusations of changing accounting systems from accrual to cash were flat wrong.
Boustany also has tales of dealing with bureaucracy.
At an April 6 crawfish boil hosted by the conservative Americans for Prosperity, Boustany described himself as an outsider who gets things done.
He described how he was able to strip a provision from the Affordable Care Act that saved $80 billion. Stripping the CLASS Act in 2009 has been his go-to example of effectiveness on the campaign trail and plays a prominent role on his website.
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CLASS Act, short for Community Living Services and Support, was to create long-term insurance coverage available to anyone, including those who are already disabled. Unless they chose to opt out, enrollees would pay a premium. But the program would not start paying benefits until 2016 and in the meantime, the money was used to shore up the budget.
Boustany obtained a legal opinion from attorneys at the American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service stating the federal government lacked the authority. He then led a congressional effort to force U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to concede the program was unsustainable. Then he worked with Paul Ryan, then head of the House Budget Committee and now Speaker of the House, to reduce the cost of the program to zero.
Looming over the horizon, however, is an issue that voters would find more engaging than in-the-weeds descriptions of financial issues.
Internecine war broke out over the Sept. 13 publication of a book, “Murder in the Bayou,” that quoted unnamed sex workers as saying Boustany was involved with prostitutes in Jennings.
Boustany and his wife swiftly denied the allegations and called them “scurrilous lies.” They also went after Kennedy for spreading the smear in classic passive-aggressive texts to members of the political community.
Allen, Kennedy's campaign manager, texted a link to the BuzzFeed coverage of the book’s allegations to an elected official, saying: “Not sure what this is all about, but wanted to make sure you saw it.”
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany on Wednesday blamed State Treasurer John N. Kennedy — one of his …
The book recounts the investigation into the unsolved murders of eight Jeff Davis Parish prostitutes. It focuses on what the author calls sloppy police work. The Boustany allegations are near the end.
The author, Ethan Brown, and the publisher, Scribner / Simon & Schuster Inc., stand by the reporting in the book.
State Treasurer John Kennedy said he won’t back off asking about allegations that his oppone…
Kennedy said he wouldn’t back off. “He’s saying I can’t talk about the issue that goes directly to his character? Of course I can talk about the issue, everybody is talking about this issue,” he said.
But Kennedy has not brought up the issue since. Neither have any of the other candidates.
THIBODAUX, La. (AP) — Four top candidates in Louisiana's U.S. Senate race drew greater disti…
How long that could last, remains to be seen.