Angelle at Erath parade

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD — Volunteers supporting Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle organize before the beginning of the 2016 Fourth of July Parade in Erath.

Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle is frustrating his competitors for Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District seat, and he might eventually create a headache for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, too.

Angelle, who has served as lieutenant governor and in the cabinets of two governors and presently sits on the LSU Board of Supervisors, seems set to cruise into the top runoff for the House spot being vacated by Republican Senate candidate Rep. Charles Boustany — if Angelle doesn't win the election in the first primary. He's vastly outspent opponents — only one of whom has served in elective office — and his rivals seem largely unable to make an impression on donors or the electorate.

More than Angelle’s extended service in state and local government, his run for governor last year made a mark on the minds of voters. Sounding largely conservative themes, the former Democrat finished just behind GOP U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who trailed Edwards. Some in the 3rd District field accuse Angelle of seeking the job as a way station to a rematch with Edwards in 2019.

That tactic has worked before. After a narrow 2003 defeat for governor, Bobby Jindal captured the 1st District seat the next year with 78 percent of the vote. That position kept Jindal in the news and politically relevant. After one re-election to Congress, he swept to gubernatorial victory in 2007. 

Angelle’s campaign insists its candidate remains committed to serving in the House, but does not rule out categorically that Angelle might make a future move toward the Governor’s Mansion. Whether that would come in 2019 may depend upon how well Angelle has defused animosity he generated among Republicans and conservatives in 2015.

With Vitter figured as the gubernatorial favorite, both Angelle and former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, also a Republican, joined Edwards in relentlessly attacking Vitter’s character. Each Republican figured he could win by acing Vitter out of a runoff with Edwards. They failed and helped damage irreparably Vitter’s image in the eyes of a number of voters. Moreover, by concentrating on personalities rather than issues, they distracted the public from evaluating the candidates on the basis of ideology, allowing Edwards to defeat Vitter. 

Voters on the right distrusted Angelle for that, but would have voted for him over Edwards had he made the runoff and likely would have carried him to victory. Yet Angelle alienated some of them permanently when he sacrificed principle to ambition by refusing to endorse Vitter in the runoff, presumably to keep his future electoral options open. 

That's unlikely to cost Angelle in his current quest, but it could sabotage his chances for a future gubernatorial run, especially when another possible candidate provides a favorable alternative choice for Louisiana’s center-right electorate. Like Vitter, GOP Attorney Gen. Jeff Landry is a solid conservative, but minus the personal baggage. Despite losing an intraparty election struggle for Congress with Boustany in 2012, Landry’s statewide win last year demonstrated conservatives harbor no ill will over that heated battle. 

With an appealing option in Landry, conservative support for Angelle may lag and cost him the chance at another runoff. However, Angelle could join Landry in a runoff if he captures enough of the moderates who typically vote for Republicans but went with Edwards in 2015, thereby denying the incumbent re-election. Regardless, Edwards seems no more likely to defeat Angelle heads-up than four years ago.

Only a loss in the congressional race — an outcome Edwards should welcome — would slow Angelle’s momentum enough for him not to be a factor in the 2019 governor’s election.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana Government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at http://www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at http://www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter @jsadowadvocate. Email him at jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.

Editor's note: This column was updated On Oct. 24 to correct a mistake. The previous version incorrectly identified Scott Angelle as a member of the Board of Regents.