A Louisiana businessman hopes support from the popular “Duck Dynasty” reality show family will be enough to propel him to victory over the heir apparent in Saturday’s special election in Louisiana’s 5th District.
But even with the burly, bearded Duck Commanders sounding the call to vote for Vance McAllister, the political newcomer faces an uphill battle against state Sen. Neil Riser. The GOP state lawmaker’s anti-Obamacare message, support from House leadership and fundraising prowess solidified his front-runner status in the race even before the primary last month.
“The first race was a popularity contest. This race is really about defining the issues in the race,” said Jason Hebert, former executive director of the Republican Party of Louisiana, who says he is neutral in this contest. “You’ve gotta offer a clear, concise contrast between yourself and your opponent.”
McAllister, a Republican, has been trotting out members of the Robertson family, whose duck hunting business is based in the northeastern Louisiana district. Most recently, Willie Robertson starred in a campaign spot, going straight-to-camera with a McAllister endorsement that will run Thursday through Saturday.
Meanwhile, Riser has flooded local airwaves with ads attacking his foe’s more moderate approach to fixing Obamacare. It’s a message Riser’s campaign hopes will halt McAllister’s momentum in this open-seat race.
Former Rep. Rodney Alexander resigned this summer to take a job in Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, creating the contest.
In a recent debate, McAllister said he supported Medicaid expansion under the new health care law. (Jindal declined the opportunity to expand Medicaid in Louisiana that was offered as part of Obamacare.) And last month, McAllister told a local newspaper “we are past” repealing Obamacare and instead should “find the things that don’t work and fix them.”
Riser supports removing funding for Obamacare, according to his public statements.
His campaign thinks the clear contrast in positions will play well in this deeply conservative district, which Mitt Romney carried with 61 percent last year.
“We just want to make sure every voter sees the true difference between Neil Riser and Vance McAllister,” said Ryan Cross, a spokesman for the Riser campaign. “We think that message needs to be shown to the people voting on Saturday. Vance is willing to tell one group one thing and tell another group something completely different.”
McAllister’s campaign brushed off the attacks, reiterating that his outsider status is what’s needed to change the culture of Washington, D.C.
It’s the same message “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson has pushed, touting McAllister as the best candidate in the contest because he “has the least political experience.”
“It’s fresh face versus the establishment,” said McAllister adviser Josh Robinson. “We think Vance has a more practical approach to repealing Obamacare. ... The Riser campaign is all in a tizzy about Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion is a state issue, so the fact that it came up in the debate was odd to me.”
McAllister’s outsider message propelled him past 12 other candidates from both parties in an Oct. 16 open primary. He received 18 percent of the vote to secure second place.
But the math might work against McAllister in Saturday’s election, which will determine the next member of Congress from the district. Riser received 32 percent in the open primary, so McAllister must pick up support from nearly every GOP voter who didn’t support Riser the first time around.
Or McAllister must appeal to some of the more moderate Democrats who came out to vote in the primary. Local insiders speculated this could account for his recently stated support for Medicaid expansion in the Pelican State.
The campaign is also banking on the “Duck Dynasty” endorsement to help draw attention to this under-the-radar contest and help boost what’s expected to be a low turnout affair.
“I think it gives [McAllister] an added bit of bona fides,” Robinson said of the endorsement. “I heard some people say, ‘Oh, we’ve heard of Neil Riser, but we know the Robertsons are behind you.’”