Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Caroline Fayard says if there is one thing that she feels confident about after months on the campaign trail, it's that Louisiana voters are yearning for someone they can relate to and who comes across as an "outsider."
"People are very not interested in the status quo. They feel that there is an elitist tinge to our politics and it's leaving them behind," Fayard said. "There's a fair amount of anger, and I can understand it as an outsider looking in and wanting more for the future."
At 38 years old, Fayard is the only one of the top five major candidates for U.S. Senate in Louisiana who is younger than 60. She's also the only woman, and the only one who hasn't previously held political office.
"It's good to be one of the guys, but I'm not a good ole boy," Fayard recently quipped during a candidate forum.
Laughing as she remembered the joke a couple of days later, Fayard explained: "I'm standing next to everyone else who has a title, and I don't."
Fayard, a New Orleans attorney who unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, is the closest thing to an "outsider" candidate who has managed to break into the top tier of this year's race to replace Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, whose decision not to seek re-election created an opening that drew a remarkable 24 candidates.
Fayard said she assessed the field carefully before deciding that it was again time to make a run for public office.
"I realized this was an open Senate seat and Louisiana has a real chance to get a fresh start and send new leadership to Washington," she said. "When I looked at the field and who else was running, I didn't see anything fresh."
Her message so far has leaned heavily on female-focused themes, and she often draws a younger base of supporters to her events.
"I think she represents a new phase of representation for Louisiana that we haven't seen before," said Stasha Rhodes, 29, who owns a nonprofit advocacy firm in Baton Rouge. "She has the capacity, the ability and the strength to move Louisiana forward to a place that we have not been before.
"It's time. I think it's time for leadership like Caroline," Rhodes added.
Though she's running an "outsider campaign," Fayard has generally locked up support from the wing of the state Democratic Party represented by the Landrieu family in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, Fayard's chief Democratic rival, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, has secured the backing of Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana AFL-CIO and other key Democratic allies.
Campbell, who in sharp contrast to Fayard's outsider campaign embraces and is proud of his years of public service, has held elected office since 1976 — two years before Fayard was born.
The two leading Democrats have been locked in an often blistering battle as they attempt to secure one of the two coveted spots in the Dec. 10 runoff.
Under Louisiana's jungle primary system, the top two vote-getters on Nov. 8, regardless of party, will go on to the second round if no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote. Early voting begins Tuesday, Oct. 25.
Former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat who lost her 2014 re-election bid against Republican Bill Cassidy, said she sees Fayard's youth as an appealing quality of her candidacy.
"I know the level of energy that it takes to do that job well and to represent this very diverse and wonderful state," Landrieu said. "I believe strongly that Caroline has the energy, the enthusiasm, the intelligence and the commitment to hard work that it takes to do this job well."
Fayard's family has deep ties to the Landrieus, so the former senator's endorsement didn't entirely come as a surprise. But Landrieu said she believes it's in the state's interest to have someone who is fit to serve beyond a single six-year term.
Former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is backing Democrat Caroline Fayard in Louisiana's U.S. Senate race.
"You can't get anything done in the first two years, or really in the first term — just very little," Landrieu said. "It takes time in the Senate to build seniority. ... She can get in at a relatively young age and work her way up."
The daughter of a prominent and well-connected attorney, Fayard bristles at the oft-repeated suggestion that she has managed to coast on her family's political connections or wealth.
"It's unfair and shortsighted," said Fayard, who has a brother and a sister, as well as a younger half-brother.
Her father, Calvin, was the first person from his family to graduate from college, Fayard noted, and her mother commuted by bus to Loyola to attend law school.
"My parents are the personification of the American dream," Fayard said. "They were incredibly hard workers and they have strong values that they have instilled in us."
She said she understands the tendency to dismiss her as merely a daughter of a politically connected family — her family also has long-standing ties to the Clintons. But Fayard said she thinks it's unfair to write her off like that.
One of the most adversarial contests within the crowded race to be Louisiana's next U.S. sen…
"There's been a leap in my family, but the things that I have achieved in my own life ... I've done those things myself," she said. "I could have probably just hung it up early, but that's not what I want. I don't believe that's what anybody wants."
Fayard, who grew up in Denham Springs and attended high school at Episcopal in Baton Rouge, earned her bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College.
From there, she went on to work for Goldman Sachs in New York — a position that has sparked criticism from some opponents who have noted the firm's role in the national banking crisis. Fayard said she wasn't happy working on Wall Street, so she left.
"I learned their values did not match up with my values," she said. "If I was a greedy person then I would still be there, but I am not."
After leaving Goldman Sachs, Fayard earned her law degree from the University of Michigan. She currently works in private practice and serves on several community and business boards.
Robert Fogarty, co-founder of the nonprofit Evacuteer.org in New Orleans, said several people he approached about his organization, which focuses on disaster evacuation efforts, were disinterested. He remembers Fayard, who is now a member of his board, actively engaging and taking an interest in his ideas.
"I've always respected the fact that it could have been easy for her to say she didn't have the time," he said. "When she sees things she wants to be a part of, she goes after them."
Fayard, who tends to stick to the script in official appearances, is the type of person who comes to life in intimate discussions, animatedly throwing out legal background and discussing current events from around the world, Fogarty and others who know her point out.
"There are few people who I know where you really have to bring your 'A game' to a dinner conversation, and she is one of them," Fogarty said. "She will run circles around you."
Largely a political unknown until she jumped into the special election for lieutenant governor in 2010, Fayard, who describes herself as a “pro-life, pro-business Democrat,” secured a position in the runoff race but was defeated by Republican Jay Dardenne.
Just a few months after the election, Fayard, who had been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, came under fire for telling the crowd at the Washington Parish Democratic Party banquet in Bogalusa that she "hate(s) Republicans."
"They are cruel and destructive," the Bogalusa Daily News quoted her as saying in March 2011. "They eat their young. They don't think. They don't allow people to think. They are bullies."
Today, she maintains that her remarks were taken out of context yet still lists the episode among her biggest regrets in politics.
"My mouth got ahead of my heart," she said. "It's made me better. It's made me more humble, and hopefully more deliberate and more open to how words matter."
Oliver Thomas, a former New Orleans City Council member who now hosts a radio show and serves as a motivational speaker after pleading guilty to accepting bribes in 2007, said he sees a uniqueness in Fayard that is refreshing in the race.
"She's the most different candidate that has a chance to win, in terms of the whole field," he said.
He said that he was taken by Fayard's intellect and sincerity.
"There's no political camouflage there," he said. "Maybe it's because she hasn't been in the system."
Thomas said he remembers having a discussion with Fayard early on. At one point he listed five things that were important to him. When he was done, Fayard immediately recalled all of his points, engaging him in a dialogue along the way.
"Too many are only surface swimmers and cannot handle the depth," he said. "She's smart, and she listens."