UPDATED: What’s The Source Of The PAC Ads Beating Up Rob Maness In The House District 77 Runoff?

Last night the Advocate had a lengthy piece by Mark Ballard on the latest developments in the District 77 Louisiana House race between Rob Maness and Mark Wright, and the emergence of a campaign spot attacking Maness from the Better Louisiana PAC.

Here’s the ad…

It doesn’t have anything new. It’s a recitation of the built-in negatives for Maness – namely, that he’s been something of a perennial candidate since he got into the 2014 Senate race, that he’s taken some positions on disaster recovery which, while they might be ideologically sound, simply don’t work from a political standpoint and in particular with people living on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain where a good hurricane can cause lots of flooding, and that he gave money to an old Air Force buddy who was a Democrat running for office up in Indiana.

All of that combines to make Maness a “scary politician?” Meh. It makes him beatable, but scary?

The Advocate article made a big deal out of the fact that almost all of the Better Louisiana PAC’s money originally came from Brooklyn Fleming (the campaign finance report identifies her as Brooklyn Bolin but the Advocate says she’s the same person), who is former Rep. John Fleming’s daughter. Our readers will remember that Fleming and Maness both ran in the primary for the U.S. Senate seat John Kennedy ultimately won last year, and given the crowded field in that race and the similar ideological positioning Fleming and Maness came from, there was some tension – which got a lot worse when one of Fleming’s backers Paul Dickson sat down with Maness to ask him to drop out of the race and back Fleming.

Dickson’s argument was a good one, which was that if Maness could throw four or five percent of the vote Fleming’s way that number would push him very close to a spot in the runoff with Kennedy and at that point anything could happen; from a purely strategic point of view Dickson was right, and the carrot for Maness would have been that he would then potentially have a U.S. Senator as a political backer if he wanted to run for something else later.

Maness then went public about the conversation and tried to make it a criminal case. Nothing came of that, obviously, but bad blood between Fleming and Maness has lingered.

And incidentally, a week or so ago Lane Grigsby of Cajun Industries, who might be the most prominent conservative political donor in the state, dropped $25,000 on the Better Louisiana PAC. Grigsby is not a particular fan of Rob Maness.

But here’s the problem with all this. The Better Louisiana PAC’s chairman is J Hudson, a Baton Rouge-based political consultant whose main client is Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), in his role as chairman of the House Republican Delegation in the Louisiana legislature.

And thus it’s really not a good look for J Hudson to be running attack ads against Maness.

We had multiple conversations with Republicans around the state after the Advocate article dropped with people wondering whether the Fleming stuff is a smokescreen and what’s really going on is Lance Harris is trying to keep Maness out of the legislature.

From an ideological standpoint, mind you, there is hardly a vote that will come up in the legislature between now and 2019 in which Mark Wright and Rob Maness will differ. Both of them are staunch conservatives who will be pretty close to 100 percent on the scorecards of LABI and the Louisiana Family Forum. As such, this is the kind of race the delegation has to stay out of.

And Hudson, as the political consultant for the delegation, has to know that. So for him to have his name listed as chairman of a PAC attacking Maness while he’s working for Harris is counterproductive.

Sure, your average voter isn’t going to get wrapped up in this kind of thing. But the political insider crowd will absolutely be wrapped up in it. Thus the questions.

Is this Fleming’s revenge on Maness? We have no real reason to doubt that, though it isn’t a great look for Fleming to be reaching all the way down from Shreveport to Mandeville to trash an old opponent from the rear-view mirror. But still – Hudson has to do a lot better job than this for his main client. Harris is going to be getting questions from members of the delegation now, and he’s going to be asked whether he’s taken a position on the District 77 race. And he’s probably going to be blindsided by the whole thing, because he’s smart enough to know that whether Wright or Maness wins, either way the delegation is getting a solid conservative vote and a quality teammate – and in such a case you don’t alienate either one.

None of this really works. Wright, who is apparently on the rise in recent polls of the race, likely gets nervous about how this somehow makes him the “establishment” candidate without his asking for it. And Maness, who has set himself up as the “grassroots conservative” in every race he’s run so far, can now play up how the good ol’ boys at the State Capitol don’t want him there shaking things up. In what’s expected to be a low-turnout race, that might be enough to mobilize enough of Maness’ people to win.

Or not. But either way it seems to be a rather shocking bit of carelessness to have J Hudson’s name attached to those attack spots in that race.

UPDATE: We just talked to Rep. Harris, who made it a point of emphasis to note that the delegation’s relationship with Hudson is only active when the legislature is in session. “I haven’t talked to J since the last session ended,” he said.

Which is what we thought, since as we said above there is zero percentage in backing one candidate over another in the District 77 race. The confusion caused by having Hudson run PAC ads in that race while the perception exists that he works for the delegation is apparently due to Hudson’s actions and not any decisions made by Harris.

These are the kinds of mistakes a good consultant can avoid. It appears we have a good teachable moment on our hands.

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