How Mary Landrieu and Kissing Congressman’s Fates Are Tied
Vulnerable Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and embattled GOP Rep. Vance McAllister, also known as the “Kissing Congressman,” have something in common on Election Day.
Though on opposite sites of the aisle, the two Pelican State incumbents are fighting for their political lives Tuesday. They also have a common goal in attracting moderate voters — and the same adversary in the Louisiana Republican Party.
“Certainly they both need the support of moderates to win,” said Louisiana GOP executive director Jason Doré in a phone interview Wednesday.
Landrieu’s challenge Tuesday is garnering more than 50 percent of the vote in the jungle primary to avoid a runoff. If she fails to reach that threshold, she will likely face GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy in December. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Tilts Republican.
“Sen. Landrieu’s combination has always been to have a strong showing of Democrats and to get enough Independents to get over 50,” said Trey Ourso, a Democratic strategist and former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
McAllister faces a similar challenge of uniting the coalition that sent him to Congress in a 2013 special election. Louisiana operatives credit his first win against GOP state Sen. Neil Riser with his ability to attract Democrats and moderate voters, but doing so will be more difficult Tuesday.
In addition to facing a crowded field of candidates hoping to represent the expansive northeastern 5th District, McAllister must also restore his image after he was caught on camera kissing a married staffer.
The Louisiana Republican also faces questions regarding his Republican credentials. Though McAllister stressed his conservatism in two television ads, the Club for Growth went on the air attacking him for not being conservative enough in Congress.
In the 5th District race, McAllister will have to vie for a spot in the middle, along with Democratic Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo capturing liberal voters and five other Republicans splitting conservative voters. The question is whether McAllister can attract those voters and there are enough of them to advance to the runoff.
Though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in the district, with 23 percent of voters not registered with either party, voters tend to elect conservative candidates.
For Landrieu, her victory depends on a strong turnout among African-American voters in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but also in the 5th District where that demographic comprises nearly 25 percent of voters. Democrats and African-Americans are expected to coalesce around Mayo, who came in third in the 2013 special election primary but will likely advance Tuesday since he is the only Democrat this cycle.
Landrieu endorsed Mayo in mid-October, stressing that the four-term mayor is “a bridge builder.” No doubt Landrieu would prefer to add another Democrat to the delegation, but a McAllister runoff victory would not be the worst alternative — in no small part because it would frustrate the Louisiana GOP through Dec. 6.
“Landrieu [is] looking at it as a win for McAllister might not be as good as a reflection on the party itself ,” said a Louisiana GOP operative, who explained that McAllister and the state Republican Party have a “pretty frosty relationship.”
“Besides his personal issues that have been well documented,” said Ourso, “I think that his attempt to at least sound like more of a moderate is part of a reason why the Republicans, the party establishment, have turned their back on him so much.”
When the news broke of McAllister’s infidelity, the state party called on McAllister to resign, exacerbating the tense relationship brewing since he beat Riser, the party’s preferred candidate in 2013.
If McAllister advances to the runoff, the Louisiana GOP won’t necessarily line up behind him either.
“We’re not going to work for the Democrat or work against him if he’s in the runoff with Mayo, but I think the amount of support would be different for him,” said Doré. “When you have a congressman that publicly attacks the party, it’s really hard for us to go out and work for him. . . . We’re hopeful that we’ll have another alternative.”
Though polling shows the race is very close, McAllister, Dr. Ralph Abraham and businessman Zach Dasher seem to be the top contenders for the second spot in the runoff against Mayo. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, endorsed Dasher Wednesday, touting the Republican who is related to the stars of A&E’s popular reality show “Duck Dynasty,” which is filmed in the district, as the best choice for conservatives.
Whichever Republican advances to the runoff will likely head to Congress in December. The race is rated Safe Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.