In the aftermath of last night’s 3rd District GOP congressional primary, one thing is very clear.
Hunt Downer can’t win.
In a three-way race, Jeff Landry and Kristian Magar – a pair of conservative firebrands with Tea Party-friendly ideas and curricula vitae which do not include public officeholding – outpolled Downer 64-36 yesterday. Landry was just a couple hundred votes shy of the 50 percent he needed to avoid a runoff altogether.
Downer, whose campaign to date has inexplicably focused a lot more on Landry than on his distinguished record as a legislator and leader, performed very poorly yesterday. Viewing the official parish-by-parish results from the 3rd District primary, Downer showed strength only in his home of Terrebonne Parish, where he picked up 3,640 of his overall total of 7,570 votes.
In the other 12 parishes represented in the district, even in Jefferson Parish where the local Republican Party operatives endorsed him, Downer was beaten by Landry. In Lafourche Parish, which was considered a Downer stronghold in this race before the local GOP endorsed Landry a week before the election, Downer only garnered only 43 percent of the vote (Landry received 46 percent).
Those aren’t the kind of numbers which look promising. But it’s worse even than that for Downer.
Landry was just 162 votes shy of ending the race without a runoff yesterday. Magar, who said his goal was to get 8,000 votes in the primary and thus make the runoff, pulled 2,987. What that means is with similar turnout in the runoff, Landry will need just one out of every 18 votes Magar managed, while Downer will either need to get all of Magar’s vote or find a way to (1) depress Landry’s turnout or (2) steal Landry’s voters – or a combination of all three – to overcome his primary vote deficit.
And he’ll have to do this despite a significant deficit of cash on hand.
Downer will also have to deal with another problem; his skipping the debate put on by the Baton Rouge Tea Party and Tea Party of Louisiana two weeks before the election alienated the Tea Party-affiliated voters in the district who make up about two-thirds of the Republian electorate there. The vote totals reflected that alienation. Magar’s vote came almost exclusively from Tea Party voters, and those voters don’t just prefer Landry – they dislike Downer.
The Tea Party of Louisiana put out a statement after last night’s results:
The Tea Party of Louisiana, which organized the “Down with Downer” campaign, tonight called on Hunt Downer to withdraw from the congressional “Second Primary” after opponent Jeff Landry came within 200 votes of winning the race outright.
“Tonight, the liberty-minded citizens of Congressional District 3 sent Hunt Downer and RINOs everywhere a message,” Spokesman Chris Comeaux said. “Mr. Downer should do what’s in the best interest of the liberty movement and withdraw from this race. It’s not going to get any easier for him,” Comeaux said.
RINO is a term commonly used by Tea Party activists meaning “Republican In Name Only.” Comeaux said that Downer cannot win the election and should not force Mr. Landry to spend hundreds of thousands of unnecessary dollars that could otherwise be used to fight his liberal, well-financed opponent in November.
Downer, who led the Third District race by hefty margins, saw his numbers crumble after Tea Party members from across Louisiana exposed his tax-and-spend record in recent weeks. He even skipped a Tea Party-sponsored debate in Gonzales two weeks ago, claiming it conflicted with his attendance at a fundraiser.
“The ‘I think I need to be at a fundraiser’ excuse was pretty lame,” Comeaux said. “But I could understand why someone with his record wouldn’t want to answer questions from citizens who understand the Constitution and limited government,” he said.
Landry received approximately 49.9% of the vote in complete but unofficial returns this evening. Downer scored only 36%, with nearly two-thirds of district Republicans opposing him.
“The message from Third District Republicans about Hunt Downer this evening is crystal clear: It is time for him to go,” Comeaux said.
A reasonable interpretation of that statement is that Downer faces yet another three-way race; not only will he have to run against Landry, he’ll have to run against the Tea Party as well.
How can he climb this mountain?
With such a large number of people alienated from his candidacy at this point, the only way for Downer to pull this off would be to run an even more negative campaign than he’s already run. And despite the characterization of Landry as having run a dirty race so far (which isn’t completely unfair, but largely beside the point), Downer has hardly refrained from pouring out everything he’s had.
Virtually from the beginning Downer sought to define Landry as a liar and crook, which seemed unwise from Jump Street seeing as though Downer had name recognition and was a popular figure in the district and Landry was something of a political newcomer. He put a lot of eggs in the basket of a lawsuit Landry was ensnared in several years ago, and the case didn’t resonate with the voters as supporting the narrative Downer wanted. He trotted out a line asking “If Landry will lie about life, what else will he lie about?” in reference to questions Landry asked about his voting record on abortion (Landry’s questions were more a fishing expedition than a frontal assault on Downer, and Downer took the bait badly). Downer attempted to paint Landry as a “Washington Insider” because he managed to get a few endorsements from national conservative organizations, but Landry comes off as anything but that given his thick Cajun accent and lack of official ties to D.C.
What other arrows does Downer have in his quiver? Unless he’s got photo art of Landry with a live boy or a dead girl, as the famous line goes, staying negative isn’t getting him anywhere. And at this point since the Tea Party folks are on the warpath against Downer, Landry doesn’t need to run one more attack on him from now until the October runoff. He can start running against the Democrat, Ravi Sangisetty, and simply say that the voters have already rejected Downer’s record and his campaign. Which would reduce Downer to essentially nipping at his heels, the only real effect of which would be to potentially weaken the GOP candidate for the November general election.
It’s a waste of time, money and effort, and to secure his reputation within the Republican Party Downer should spare everyone involved the headache of another ugly primary battle. The party needs to come together behind Landry, because Sangisetty is well-funded and should not be taken for granted in the general election.
Downer can’t help the GOP take over the 3rd District seat by staying in the race. He can’t help himself, either. It’s in the best interest of all for him to retire from the field.