Home Opinion Opinion: Sam Hanna, Jr. – Only a few contenders

Opinion: Sam Hanna, Jr. – Only a few contenders

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Only a few contenders

A whopping 24 candidates qualified last month for the Nov. 8 Senate election in Louisiana to name Sen. David Vitter’s successor.

First elected in 2004 in a heated contest to replace Sen. John Breaux, Vitter opted not to seek re-election this fall. He pledged months ago to leave the Senate if he wasn’t elected governor last year. And we all know how that campaign played out.

So it is that we have a field of two dozen candidates for a seat in the most exclusive legislative body in the world. Though there’s a slew of them, only a few of the candidates actually matter, or stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected later this year.
While Louisiana’s congressional politics are widely regarded as pro-Republican these days, three Democratic candidates are in the race who have a decent shot at earning a spot in the December run-off. At the top of the heap among Democrats is Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Elm Grove in northwestern Louisiana.

A throwback from the old days when Louisiana politics were dominated by the Long and anti-Long factions, Campbell, if we were to turn the clock back, would be a Long man. Through and through.

Now somewhat wealthy thanks to owning some land that’s gas-rich, Campbell should still be regarded as the workingman’s candidate. He also has Gov. John Bel Edwards’ support, which creates somewhat of a problem in state Democratic Party politics, particularly among minority voters and white liberals who might be torn between riding with the leader of their party versus backing a candidate who most likely has the blessing of the king and queen of liberals in Louisiana — Mary and Mitch Landrieu.

That candidate, or the liberal, is Caroline Fayard, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor a number of years ago. A tried and true Progressive, Fayard has family money. Her father, Calvin, is a highly successful plaintiff’s attorney from Livingston Parish though he has relocated his residence to Uptown New Orleans.

Then there’s Josh Pellerin, another Democrat who creates an even bigger problem for the state party. Pellerin reportedly can finance his own campaign, and he’s the closest thing you can get to a viable black candidate though he refers to his race as “other.”
Pellerin doesn’t look black, and he doesn’t look
white. But he’s dark enough to create a whole lot of problems for Campbell and Fayard, who both must have rock-solid support among black voters if they harbor any hope of making the run-off. Let’s face it. Black voters will gravitate to a black candidate over a white candidate any day of the week.

Before it’s all said and done, Democrats must coalesce behind one candidate who they feel has the best shot at beating a Republican in December. Or they risk handing Louisiana an all Republican run-off. And that brings us to the Republicans.

State Treasurer John Kennedy is the man to beat though two current Republican congressmen and a firebrand conservative who opposed then-Sen. Mary Landrieu and then-Congressman Bill Cassidy in the 2014 Senate race also are in the mix.
Kennedy has the most money on hand of every candidate in the race regardless of party.

Without a doubt, he’s the most effective fundraiser of all the candidates, too. His name identification among likely voters is sky-high. So it’s only natural that Kennedy would be considered the biggest bull on the block.
But there’s a side to Kennedy that rubs some people the wrong way. Maybe he’s a bit “preachy.” Maybe he lectures us too often. Maybe we’ve heard him complain too much.

Whatever it is, Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette obviously is banking on peeling off enough Republicans and Independents who might be inclined to vote for Kennedy to create enough wiggle room to slide into the run-off himself.

All the while, we must assume Congressman John Fleming and Rob Maness, the firebrand who ran a respectable campaign two years ago, will battle it out for the hardcore conservative vote. One of them must lose, but in doing so, there probably won’t be enough conservatives to propel Fleming or Maness to the next level.

Yet, it’s far too early to accurately predict which candidates will emerge as the two top vote-getters in November. Hopefully the electorate will get the opportunity in December to choose between two candidates from opposite ends of the political divide.

At least then we’ll know whether Louisiana is trending Democratic as Democrats would have us believe since Edwards’ election in the gubernatorial race last fall.

Sam Hanna is a state
political writer.