With control of the U.S. Senate in play, high-profile Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents running for re-election in state after state this year.
But not in Louisiana – at least not so far anyway.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is facing four little-known Democrats. But the contest would change if Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins jumps into the race when qualifying begins next week.
“I have been approached by a lot of people from all over the state asking me to step up,” Perkins said in a text Wednesday. “In this moment of overlapping crisis, there is a lot to consider. Ultimately, I want to do what’s best for the city of Shreveport.”
Until now, Cassidy has been breezing to re-election in a state that has become even more Republican since 2014 when he trounced U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who was seeking a fourth term, by a 56-44% margin.
This year’s race has received little attention – Cassidy has yet to begin his television advertising campaign – but that will begin to change with qualifying on July 22-24.
It’s rated as a safe Republican seat by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political blog based at the University of Virginia.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, won re-election last year narrowly despite the GOP’s dominance in Louisiana, but “federal races are more closely yoked to the presidential result,” said Miles Coleman, the Crystal Ball’s associate editor. “Based on how it has voted in past presidential elections, I would expect Trump to win Louisiana by double digits. Bill Cassidy has a very good chance to win outright in the primary” on Nov. 3.
Trump won Louisiana by 20 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Cassidy has been a reliable supporter of Trump, voting with him 92% of the time, according to the data website FiveThirtyEight.
Cassidy voted for the huge tax cut passed by Congress in 2017 that favored the wealthy and big corporations and has tried unsuccessfully to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a plan that he has said would expand health care insurance.
Cassidy, who worked as a gastroenterologist before becoming a senator, has not criticized Trump’s bombastic comments, controversial moves or outright lies.
A survey in September by pollster Bernie Pinsonat showed that 59% of voters rated Cassidy as doing an excellent or good job, versus 33% who said not so good or poor.
Cassidy declined to be interviewed for this article.
He is the clear favorite this year, said pollster John Couvillon, because he “has the advantage of incumbency in a state that has been moving more Republican.”
Since 2014, Democrats have gone from 44 to 35 members in the House and from 13 to 12 in the Senate.
Registered Democrats accounted for 47.1% of voters in 2014 but only 41.8% today, while Republicans have gone from 27.7% of the electorate to 31.7%, said Couvillon. Those numbers vastly underestimate the GOP’s strength because many Democrats vote Republican and haven’t changed their party registration.
White voters account for nearly the entire switch from Democrat to Republican. The shift has left Black voters accounting for 58% of Democratic voters today. Perkins, if he were to run and win, would become the first Black candidate to win statewide office.
In 2014, three of the state’s biggest cities – New Orleans, Lake Charles and Alexandria – were led by White Democrats. Now the biggest city led by a White Democrat is Sulphur, the state’s 18th biggest city, where Mike Danahay serves as mayor.
Democrats outraged by Trump have poured tens of millions of dollars into races to defeat the president’s big-name Republican allies seeking re-election in red states, including Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, and Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, the Judiciary Committee chairman.
Thanks to contributions from throughout the country, Amy McGrath has raised an eye-popping $41 million to challenge McConnell. Jaime Harrison, the Democrat in South Carolina, has raised $21 million to defeat Graham.
The four Democrats who have said they are planning to challenge Cassidy – Antoine Pierce, Peter Wenstrup, Drew Knight and Dartanyon Williams – have received no such help. None has raised more than $100,000, according to campaign finance reports. Cassidy, meanwhile, has $6 million on hand.
Couvillon, based on the high numbers of Black voters who turned out for the July 11 elections in Louisiana, believes that any Democratic candidate will run 1-2 points higher than in normal statewide elections. But that would not be enough to beat Cassidy, he believes.
The obvious candidate for Democrats this year would have been Mitch Landrieu, who served two terms as mayor of New Orleans, was elected statewide twice as lieutenant governor and has a national following after taking the lead in removing four Jim Crow-era monuments in New Orleans, long before the death of George Floyd led to a rethinking about racial injustice in the United States. Landrieu also had a personal reason to run – he could have avenged his sister’s defeat in 2014.
But Landrieu is staying out, even though national Democrats tried to coax him in, said a person close to the former mayor.
Landrieu did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did his chief political adviser in Louisiana, Ryan Berni.
Perkins, 34, is untested on a big stage. But he knocked off an incumbent in 2018 to become mayor of Louisiana’s third-biggest city. He has a sterling resume – he graduated from West Point, served as a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army and graduated from Harvard Law School before returning to Shreveport to be elected mayor.