The thing about Louisiana politics is, once you think you’ve seen it all, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Fall 2018 was supposed to produce unremarkable elections. All members of Congress seemed destined to cruise to reelection. The low-stimulus special election for secretary of state looked to end up a runoff by the candidate from each major party whose campaigning best-created name recognition. And the most prominent local election, for Shreveport mayor, appeared poised to set up a runoff between black Democrat incumbent Ollie Tyler and a white Republican challenger.
Contests with incumbent representatives held to form. However, Shreveport voters made history when they sent to the runoff as the frontrunner a 33-year-old political neophyte, Adrian Perkins, who has lived only a few months of his adult life in the city, has a homestead in Georgia, and never before had voted. With Perkins, a newly minted lawyer and military veteran, leading Tyler into the runoff, for the first time two black Democrats will vie in such a contest, with Tyler at a severe disadvantage to retain her post.
The runoff to decide the next secretary of state will be between a Republican who spent about a quarter of a million dollars and a Democrat wh…
Republican interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin did parlay his incumbent status into leading the field. Besides being one of the leading spenders in the contest, he successfully tested the maxim that any publicity is good publicity. He made news when he swore up and down he wouldn’t run for the job, then qualified at the last minute. He faced scrutiny over a botched contracting process, and he caught flak over using the public information arm of his office in a way that could aid his campaign.
But close behind him was Democratic lawyer Gwen Collins-Greenup, who spent through the middle of October a whopping couple of thousand dollars on her campaign. She bested previous Secretary of State's Office executive Renee Free, a fellow Democrat, who through the same period spent 20 times more.
Results from recent statewide races suggested this contest would go to a Republican-Democrat runoff, leading ultimately to a GOP winner. Yet how did Collins-Greenup, who hardly campaigned, grab the runoff spot instead of Free? That’s because Collins-Greenup, who is black, won the sample ballot recommendations from a number of urban black political groups. As a result, Collins-Greenup won the parishes of Caddo and East Baton Rouge, while finishing second in Jefferson, Ouachita, Orleans, and Rapides, and third in Lafayette.
Yet the biggest shocker came from the one Republican considered an afterthought in the contest. While five GOP contenders raised and spent relatively large sums on their politicking, through mid-October Thomas Kennedy raised and spent nothing and did no campaigning. Despite that, he pulled nine percent of the vote, outpacing two big-spending Republicans and finishing not far behind two others who also spent lavishly by comparison.
Why he captured one out of every 11 votes even while others from the GOP spent so much to do about the same sends a disturbing message to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Thomas Kennedy, heretofore unknown political rookie, shares his last name with Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who likely will announce next month that he will challenge Edwards next year.
In all probability, Thomas Kennedy voters ignored all the other candidates’ advertising, saw his last name and Republican affiliation, and mistook him for John Kennedy. Having a significant portion of the electorate see the name “Kennedy” and reflexively vote that way can’t be good news for Edwards, whom polling places several percentage points behind Kennedy in a hypothetical match-up.
If this year’s elections produced this kind of wackiness, who knows how unpredictable next year’s state elections will be?
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com and writes about Louisiana legislation at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.