Sleeper Senate Race:Louisiana

Louisiana is one of those states that does things differently than everybody else.  (Louisiana also tends to change the rules every cycle.)  This cycle, like Washington and California, everybody runs in one primary regardless of party.  However, Louisiana differs from Washington and California in two significant ways.  First, unlike Washington and California, where the primary is simply a primary and the top two advance to the general regardless of whether anybody gets a majority of the vote, the Louisiana primary is actually the general election.  Thus, if somebody gets a majority, they win the election.  It is only if nobody gets a majority that the top two advance to a run-off.  Second, because it is actually the general election and not the primary, the first round of the election is on November 8.  Because of these two features, close elections in Louisiana tend to go to the December run-off.  Thus, if the Senate comes down to Louisiana, we may not know who controls the Senate until mid-December.  Because Louisiana will be an open seat, there is a great likelihood that this race will go to a run-off.

The big factor in this race is that, after losing the race for Governor last year, incumbent Senator David Vitter announced that he was not running.  As a result, there is a large field of potentially credible candidates running.  As a baseline, in 2010, when Louisiana still used a party primary, Vitter got around 55% and his Democratic opponent got around 37%.  Similarly in 2012, Romney got 57% and Obama got 40%.  Finally in the 2015 Governor’s primary, the three Republican candidates combined for 57% and the three Democratic candidates combined for 42%.  Barring something unusual, we should expect the Republican candidates in this year’s election to split around 57% of the vote and the Democratic candidates to split around 40%.

The Republicans have at least five candidates with potential to be competitive.  The best known outside of Louisiana is America’s best know KKK member, David Duke.  Duke’s top performance in Louisiana was in 1988 when he got over 40% in his first Senate run.  When he ran for Senate again in 1996, Duke only got 11%.  Duke should probably get in the low double digits again.  In other words, not likely to win, but could take votes away from the other Republicans.

Three other top candidates have all served in Congress.  Joseph Cao served one term as the Representative for the New Orleans area when he won the 2008 election in a delayed run-off over scandal-ridden Congressman William Jefferson.  Given the overwhelming Democratic majority in that seat, he was unable to hold it in 2010, but he does have name recognition in the New Orleans region which includes some Republican suburbs.  Congressman Charles Boustany currently represents the Third District (southern and southwestern Louisiana, Lake Charles, Lafayette, and Cajun country).  Congressman John Fleming represents the Fourth District, Northwest Louisiana, Shreveport.   Congressman Boustany has been in Congress for twelve years, and Congressman Fleming has been in Congress for eight years.  The issue will be how well any of these folks can draw out of their home area.

The last major Republican candidate is State Treasurer John Kennedy.  He starts with the advantage of having run state-wide before.

On the Democratic side, the top candidates appear to be Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (where he represents the northern part of the state),  and Caroline Fayard (an attorney who made the run-off for Lieutenant Governor in 2011).  A potential sleeper candidate is Gary Landrieu (apparently the black sheep of the family, but the Landrieu name could pull in votes from New Orleans and other areas just based on name recognition in a crowded field).

The key in this race will be who gets enough traction to separate themselves from the other candidates on their side of the field.   Duke would probably be lucky to get 15%, but that would leave 45% for the other four Republicans and just might be enough for David Duke to finish first among the Republicans.  (Especially as four other people are also running as Republicans and might take 1-2% away from the major candidates.)

On the Democratic side, the issue is can Campbell and Fayard keep Landrieu’s numbers and the numbers for the four other Democrats down.  If they can keep it as a two-person race and make it close, both could be looking at numbers nears 18%.   If the Republicans splinter their vote with nobody getting over 15%, the Democrats might just get both spots in the run-off.  On the other hand, if two of the Republicans can separate from the field, either Campbell or Fayard would need to dominate the Democratic vote to make the run-off.

To date, there has not been a public opinion poll released on the Louisiana Senate race; so we are all shooting a little in the dark.  The latest FEC numbers show Boustany with $2,000,000 on hand; Campbell with $870,000; Fayard with $600,000; Fleming with $2,500,000; and Kennedy with $1,400,000.  In other words, the three top Republicans are all well-enough funded (assuming they can do a decent job of raising funds in July, August, and September) to run state-wide.  While the top two Democrats could use a little more money, they have enough to stand out from the other Democratic candidates.  At this point, while all of the candidates would welcome cross-over votes, getting to the run-off is really about appealing to the base and putting your in-party rivals away.

Depending upon how things shake it in the rest of the country, the two parties will probably be thinking about whether to put some money aside for a Louisiana run-off.  Given that both parties have multiple credible candidates, the two national party committees will probably have to stay on the sidelines through the November election.

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