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Five major candidates seeking the office of Louisiana Secretary of State spoke to the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday Oct. 8, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La. Attending, from left, are Renee Fontenot Free, Kyle Ardoin, Heather Cloud, Julie Stokes and Rick Edmonds.

With less than a month to go before the Nov. 6 election for secretary of state, the top of the ballot is still a contest between nine little-known candidates, all of whom don’t have enough money to become known before voting starts.

“Nobody cares about this position or about this election,” said Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat, who has been involved in statewide races for decades but has no client in this one. “I haven’t had one person ask me about this election, and everybody asks me about elections. This is about who runs our elections. It’s important. But they (the candidates) haven’t, can’t, raise enough money to explain why it’s important to vote, much less who they are.”

In traditional races, candidates would have run “getting to know you” ads months ago, followed by negative spots against opponents. But now, during a time usually set aside for soft-focus commercials highlighting families and good points, the candidates are going to have to run all three themes at the same time.

“This is going to be a two-week race,” Pinsonat said.

Part of the reason is the shortened time-period. Rather than the year-long run up to a campaign, Tom Schedler began the process in May when he abruptly resigned following the filing of a lawsuit that alleged he sexually harassed an employee. Candidates had to decide fast and didn’t have to usual time to organize support and funding.

Also, the office may be the third highest in state government, but the work is primarily administrative: overseeing elections, registering businesses and archiving state documents.

With little funding and less interest, campaigning largely has been face-to-face at forums held by political and business clubs around the state with usually only 25-30 voters in attendance. A handful of candidates have bought ads on conservative radio — Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Rick Edmonds, for instance, spent $7,425 with Moon Griffon — and with rightwing bloggers — former state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River, paid The Hayride $1,200, according to the disclosures filed Tuesday with Louisiana Ethics Administration Program. And most have regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter.

But that’s not enough, said Pinsonat, echoing the sentiments of strategists who can’t talk frankly on-the-record about their clients' campaigns. Television will decide the race, and that usually costs a minimum of $750,000 to be effective statewide.

Short of raising money in October to an extent not heretofore exhibited, means most candidates will have to dip into their own pockets to buy television schedules. Several of the candidates are wealthy or come from wealthy families and could chose to do just that. But only two candidates have reported enough money available for television during this final sprint.

Kenner Republican Rep. Julie Stokes has $513,971, on hand and interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin with $207,789, according to the ethics disclosures that cover contributions and spending through Sept. 27. Ardoin and Stokes have filmed commercials and are buying television time to start running those spots next week, just in time for early voting, which begins on Oct. 23.

Ardoin, who joined the contest in July after saying he would not run, started off with a $25,000 personal loan but raised $140,128 in August and September.

Most of his contributions — $102,628.22 — come from Baton Rouge, and about $30,500 came from the nursing home and health care industries. Before joining the Secretary of State’s Office as Schedler’s top aide, Ardoin was a lobbyist for the health care industry.

He picked up money from establishment Republicans with Lockport boat builder Donald Bollinger and Kyle Ruckert, once a top aide to former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, both giving maximum $5,000 contributions. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour gave another $250.

Stokes reported the largest amount of money in the bank, but that includes a $250,000 personal loan.

Stokes received about half of her donations from the New Orleans area. New Orleans developer and banker Joseph Canizaro; Laney Chouest, an owner of Edison Chouest Offshore; and Baton Rouge sporting goods magnet Richard Lipsey gave maximum contributions as did the engineering company now run by Tim Barfield, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s revenue secretary. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne’s wife, Catherine, and Kathy Kliebert, Jindal health and hospitals secretary, also contributed to Stokes campaign.

Renée Fontenot Free, of Baton Rouge, raised $36,467 in contributions during August and September, spent $14,196 and has $29,427 available after calculating in the money gathered in July, according to the ethics board. But as the major Democrat in the race, strategists feel the former top aide to two secretaries of state probably doesn’t need much more to find a spot in the Dec. 8 runoff.

Candidates’ Cash On Hand for Nov. 6 Election

Julie Stokes, R-Kenner: $513,971

Kyle Ardoin, R-Baton Rouge:  $200,790

Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek:  $105,596

Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge:  $51,086

Renee Fontenot Free, D-Baton Rouge:  $29,427

A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River: $22,978

Matthew Moreau, No Party-Zachary:  $400

Gwen Collins-Greenup, D-Clinton:  $19

Thomas J. Kennedy III, R-Metairie:    $0

Source: Louisiana Ethics Administration Program

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.