Though the fate of the “kissing congressman” in Louisiana is garnering some attention outside of the Pelican State, a crowded race to the south with its own colorful characters is wide open — at least on the Republican side.
Ten candidates are vying to replace Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who vacated his seat to challenge vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu. Among them are state lawmakers, a tree farmer and an ex-governor/ex-congressman/felon. Since the Republican candidates are ideologically similar, there is no clear GOP frontrunner heading into Election Day.
"I think you've seen that all of the candidates are campaigning as conservatives so it would be difficult to contrast any of the Republican candidates’ policy stances," Jason Dore, executive director for the Louisiana Republican Party, told CQ Roll Call. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards is the top Democrat in the 6th District race and also is the most recognized candidate. The 87-year-old served four terms as governor and represented the now-nonexistent 7th District in Congress from 1965 through 1972. He most recently served 8 years in prison for racketeering and extortion.
As the Louisiana Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, Edwards is expected to advance past the jungle primary Tuesday to a December runoff by coalescing the Democratic vote. Less certain is which Republican candidate will garner the most votes to take the second spot in the runoff to represent the C-shaped southern district.
Polling in the crowded race has been inconsistent, with Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk saying each poll he’s seen “has been a different shade of crazy.”
“Democrats are united,” Handwerk said. “Republicans are all over the place and that’s certainly providing us an opportunity to really focus in on core issues.” But Republicans counter the crowded field is a virtue of Louisiana’s jungle primary system, rather than an indication of a fractured GOP.
Louisiana operatives say the GOP candidate will need between 15 and 20 percent of the vote to make the runoff.
Based on fundraising, name recognition and advertising, operatives say the top four GOP candidates are Garret Graves, former head of the Coastal Protection Authority for Gov. Bobby Jindal; state Sen. Dan Claitor; businessman Paul Dietzel, whose grandfather coached Louisiana State University's first championship football team, and state Rep. Lenar Whitney.
Graves is way ahead of the pack in terms of fundraising. The third-quarter fundraising reports showed Graves going into the final stretch with $531,000 in cash on hand. The next highest candidate was Claitor with $125,000.
Claitor, Graves and Whitney also have put ads on television, but Edwards said he has not spent any money on the airwaves so far.
“The campaign has gone exactly according to plan,” Edwards told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview last week. “I have not spent any money on TV, radio and practically none on newspapers because I’m running on the basis of my records, which people already know.”
Edwards said that could change after the Tuesday elections, should he face just one opponent in a runoff. In a district that became more Republican after 2012 redistricting, Edwards faces a steep uphill battle to return to Congress. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race Safe Republican .
Edwards’ campaign manager Ari Krupkin said the campaign will reach out to groups who supported the former governor in the past.
"Part of our district is his old congressional district, the 7th District," said Krupkin. "He has historically enjoyed strong support in the Cajun community, the river parishes community, and I think they will also coalesce behind him."
Krupkin said the campaign will work to turn out black voters and seniors. Krupkin also said he expects independent voters who normally vote Republican could cross over and vote for Edwards as well.
“Everybody looks at that district and says a Democrat can’t win the 6th,” said Trey Ourso, a Democratic strategist and former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party. “You throw Edwin Edwards in there and people say, ‘You never know.”
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