Though he says he won’t make a decision until after the Christmas holidays, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle most likely will enter the U.S. Senate race to succeed David Vitter. If Angelle gets in, his candidacy will play a pivotal role in separating the men from the boys.
Fresh off an impressive showing in this fall’s gubernatorial campaign, Angelle, a Republican, is being encouraged to run for the Senate by the very people who helped make his campaign for governor possible. That would be the financial backers who hedged their bets on a long shot, putting millions of dollars behind a candidate who supposedly didn’t stand a chance of winning the race.
They, like every other Louisianian, witnessed Angelle — Cajun accent and all — rise from 2 percent in the polls early on to come within 41,000 votes of edging out Vitter to make the run-off with Rep. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. If it had been Angelle instead of Vitter versus Edwards in the Nov. 21 general election, Angelle would be the governor-elect today and Edwards would be headed home to Amite to practice law for a living.
That’s neither here nor there. What matters now is the impact Angelle’s candidacy will have on the rest of the field in the race to succeed the dean of the Republican Party in Louisiana these days. Officially Congressman John Fleming of Minden and Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette, both Republicans, are candidates. Fleming is a flame-thrower. Boustany is a moderate who we could safely describe as the establishment candidate, or country clubber.
State Treasurer John Kennedy, another Republican, has given every indication he will be a candidate, which was expected since Kennedy went to the mat for Vitter in the governor’s race. Kennedy has run for the Senate twice already, as a Democrat in 2004 and as a Republican in 2008. Both candidacies, of course, were unsuccessful.
Retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness is running, too. Maness, you may recall, challenged Sen. Mary Landrieu last year, only to be eclipsed by the man who eventually won the race, Bill Cassidy.
Another Republican and Public Service Commissioner as well, Eric Skrmetta, of the Greater New Orleans area, has formed an exploratory committee to weigh his chances if he got into the race. A long shot to say the least, Skrmetta was re-elected to the PSC in 2014 by less than 4,000 votes. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the people who know him best, but it’s a start, I suppose.
On the Democrat side of the aisle, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, brother of Mary, says he’s not interested in running for the Senate. Don’t tell that to rank-and-file Democrats. They’re about to wet their britches over the prospect of Landrieu joining the fray.
A Landrieu campaign was taken seriously enough for veteran pollster Verne Kennedy to include him in a poll on the Senate race that was released in recent days. The Market Research Insight survey placed Landrieu in the lead with some 30 percent of the vote. Angelle was second with some 24 percent in the 600-sample survey among likely voters in Louisiana. The poll was conducted Dec. 2 to Dec. 4.
While Landrieu contemplates, the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is charged with electing Democrats nationwide to the U.S. Senate, supposedly has communicated with state Sen. Gary Smith of St. Charles Parish. Meanwhile, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Elm Grove reportedly is weighing his options while Caroline Fayard, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor a few years ago and daughter of mega plaintiff attorney Calvin Fayard, has been talked about as a potential Senate candidate, too.
A Campbell campaign would certainly create a lively atmosphere. He’ll say and do anything on the campaign trail.
Though the election to name Vitter’s successor is nearly a year away, the campaign is well underway. And if history tells us anything, Angelle is in an ideal position to parlay a recent defeat into a seat in the most powerful legislative body in the world.
Remember J. Bennett Johnston?
What about Mary Landrieu?
Sam Hanna is a state political writer.