After about a year of flooding, police shootings, murdered whores, and a comeback bid by a famous anti-Semite, Louisiana’s fairly boring U.S. Senate campaign, which will be decided Saturday, has come down to Swedish bunny massages and wearing a thousand-dollar suit in the country.
Every one of the 24 Senate candidates claimed the mantle of outsider. But Louisiana’s “throw the bums out” electorate tapped as finalists two long-serving politicians, albeit ones who built their careers on angering people in power.
The two survivors — Republican John N. Kennedy and Democrat Foster Campbell — are very much alike politically, even though they embrace many of the opposing doctrines of their respective political parties.
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The two have not stood on the same stage since before the Nov. 8 primary. Instead, debate has centered on quips that are meant to tickle the prejudices of a voting public that doesn’t really study issues but knows what it thinks is right, political strategists say.
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The use of federal funding for Swedish bunny massages has highlighted Kennedy’s now-very-sporadic public appearances and is sprinkled throughout his campaign advertising.
“I read the federal budget just like the state budget,” Kennedy said, pulling a list from his pocket and putting on reading glasses — a scene repeated over and over again since the Louisiana Tech debate in October. “Congress just appropriated $1.5 million to study the effects of Swedish massages on bunny rabbits … Maybe we could use some of that money for Medicare and Social Security.”
“I’m sure that study about Swedish bunny massages served a real purpose and found out things that will help real people. But it sounds insane,” said Roy Fletcher, the veteran Republican strategist.
Fletcher engineered the transformation of little-known Democratic Party patrician Mike Foster, of Franklin, into a Republican Bubba who won two terms as Louisiana governor. He also was responsible for putting in the good word with Foster to get Kennedy back into politics in 1996. Kennedy had been Gov. Buddy Roemer’s top legal adviser.
“Massage Therapy in Eccentric Exercise Induced Muscle Weakness and Inflammation,” was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Basically, researchers discovered that intense, deep pressure massage immediately applied after injury dramatically improves recovery.
The bunny part came from 18 white rabbits in nerve cuffs that were electrically stimulated to mimic a workout. Rabbits were used because researchers couldn’t kill humans to analyze nerves and muscles.
Kennedy cites the total cost over four fiscal years, but the latest amount appropriated was $387,000 and that was in 2013.
“Accuracy is not the point,” Fletcher said. “These are symbols for voters. It’s a symbolic way of saying those guys in Washington waste a lot of my money. That’s speaks to voters on a very fundamental level. That’s the point.”
As part of then-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s communications team, Donald Hains spent a lot of time dealing with Kennedy’s rhetorical shots across Jindal’s bow.
The state treasurer, who was among the first Republicans to criticize Jindal’s fiscal skills, repeatedly said billions could be saved by getting rid of statutory dedications and getting rid of state contracts. But the reality was never that simple.
Voters “are not interested in nuances, that a dedication is needed to pay bond obligations,” said Hains, just finished from managing a strong but ultimately unsuccessful congressional bid of a conservative Republican rookie. But it sounds good and reinforces the contention that government institutions are incompetent and state spending is in need of a “thorough scrubbing” — a theme since Roemer became governor in late 1980s.
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Campbell is a more in-the-trenches fighter, and his down-home homilies come from a farmer who attended Northwestern State University. Kennedy is a lawyer whose schooling includes the University of Virginia and Oxford.
“There’s a difference between John Kennedy and I. I don’t wear a thousand-dollar suit to walk down a gravel road. He does,” Campbell said. He is referring to the old country cliché that men wearing suits on any other day than Sunday are fast-talking city slickers whose sharp practices help big corporations at the expense of the little man.
Campbell points out that Kennedy, as a Roemer employee, helped push that governor’s bid to get rid of the homestead exemption to property taxes on primary homes, ease the ability for women to terminate pregnancies, and oppose affirmative action policies that helped minority contractors get work.
Quips help energize voters to go to the polls Saturday, but they do little to educate the electorate about issues pertinent to Louisiana.