Kyle Ardoin 072018

Interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin decided to run for the office in the November elections.

Just a month ago, when the nine candidates for the secretary of state’s race were getting their names on the Nov. 6 ballot, their narratives were all pap bromides that sound good but have little to do with the job.

Voters had settled down to what was shaping up to be an uninspiring season two of a mediocre reality show: outwit, outplay, but really, just outlast the other contestants.

In Season 1, treasurer candidates in last year’s statewide race debated tax cuts and budget fixes — neither of which is in the job description. The contest ultimately was decided by money.

But in this year’s contest for Louisiana’s top elections official, candidates took a stab at using actual issues to undermine interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.

Ardoin, the office’s top deputy for the past eight years, took over the post when Tom Schedler resigned under allegations of sexually harassing an employee. He reversed his pledge not to run in the last 10 minutes of qualifying, arguing the state needs an experienced hand on the rudder in a time when questions about election integrity attract attention nationally.

All Ardoin’s major election opponents started last week questioning his steady hand when one of the three companies competing for the $95 million contract to replace the state’s 10,000 aged voting machines complained that the standards were modified midstream to favor the winning bidder.

Reacting to Associated Press reports of the imbroglio, Republican state Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner released a statement: "Questions still swirl around as to whether the interim secretary of state just stumbled, fumbled and bumbled the bid process or if he had more dubious intentions.”

Baton Rouge Republican state Rep. Rick Edmonds said the next secretary of state should handle the contract to “regain the trust of the people.”

Democratic candidate Renee Fontenot Free of Baton Rouge, a top assistant to the secretaries of state involved in buying the current machines in 2005, also suggested waiting.

Former state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River, went further, asking Attorney General Jeff Landry and Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera to investigate. “This bid review process required the highest degree of professionalism, and it appears to have been poorly managed.”

Ardoin sees no reason to slow the process that began years ago and has the blessing of the state procurement office.

Then Republican candidate Heather Cloud released a video claiming voter fraud “is rampant in Louisiana,” citing her experience in the Turkey Creek mayor’s race.

Cloud lost the 2014 election by four votes, 110-106. She claimed the winner picked up mentally handicapped people at their home, transported them to polling stations and gave them $15 for their vote. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a re-do in February 2015, which Cloud won 134 to 118.

Cloud claimed in her video that when she pushed legislation to tighten the election code, Ardoin and Schedler told her “to hush.” (The Secretary of State’s Office denies that allegation and cites only one other court case where voter fraud was found in the last five years.)

Perhaps Ardoin’s best political move came Thursday from his seat on the State Bond Commission, when he genuflected before a core belief of the GOP faithful — the notion that liberals want to grab your guns. Ardoin scolded executives with two of the world’s largest banks for adopting policies that restrict gun sales, rather than forcing insurance companies to cover mental health. He then joined the winning side in a narrow 7-6 vote to exclude Citibank and Bank of America from participating in $600 million in highway projects.

“If these big banks want to do business with Louisiana, they're going to respect the Second Amendment rights we hold dear,” Ardoin stated on his “Keep Kyle” Facebook page.

Still, the strategy for a little-known politico to win a statewide race remains the same as last year.

The tide turned in the state treasurer’s race after John Schroder flooded the airwaves with expensive ads. He had more than twice the funding as his opponents throughout the campaign and spent double on television ads — about $414,000 — in the month preceding the Oct. 14, 2017 primary. He edged into a runoff with a Democratic opponent, whom he beat handily with only 13 percent of the state’s 3 million registered voters participating.

Under that scenario, Stokes would have the advantage.

She reported $441,000 ready to spend over the next 11 weeks, according to the Louisiana Board of Ethics. All other candidates, together, reported $318,000 on hand as of the July 29 reporting deadline.

Early voting for the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 23-30, except Sunday, Oct. 28th. The runoff, if needed, is set for Dec. 8.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.