SADOW: Gambits Aplenty In The Burgeoning 5th District Race

It’s been just a week since Rep. Rodney Alexander’s surprise announcement to ditch his current office in favor of a sinecure in the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration came out, and the sequence of events since then makes for intriguing potential political scenarios of soap operatic proportions. From the beginning:

The heir apparent gambit. Observers not only were struck by Alexander’s announcement that initially he would not run for reelection, but then felt the surprise compounded by his quick amending of it to say he was resigning within weeks to head up the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This immediately redounded to the advantage of state Sen. Neil Riser, who has money, a political action committee already set up, and has admitted he had nudged Alexander all along in this direction. It also seemed convenient that Jindal, with the secretary’s spot open since the beginning of the year, suddenly decided to fill it at this time with Alexander. This has led some to accuse a “rigging” of the election for Riser, disavowed by the Jindal Administration.

The timing and scheduling of a special election with the grooving of the job to Alexander favored Riser much more than any other potential candidate. It seemed allow Jindal to set up a situation where he did not have to pick and choose among acceptable candidates to him by creating an environment encouraging others to defer. That another whispered-about candidate, state Sen. Mike Walsworth, immediately deferred, other GOP Members of Congress jumped in to endorse Riser quickly, and another rumored candidate, Alexander’s chief of staff Adam Terry, seemed caught flatfooted, appears to confirm some detailed machinations went on in the background to clear the Republican field for Riser and to put non-Republicans at a disadvantage.

The stalking horse gambit. As these seats become almost lifetime in nature, and that almost no state offices have elections concurrent with federal elections, everybody wants to jump in to try for these golden opportunities. Lawyer Jeff Guerriero, who ran for state Senate in 2011 as a Republican, and Democrat state Rep. Marcus Hunter expressed immediate interest in running. Another Republican state representative, Jay Morris, who was a plaintiff in the “rigging” charge, also relayed his intention to run. But also saying he should be counted in was Charles Kincaid, a lawyer who had been a Pres. Barack Obama delegate for his nomination for reelection in 2012.

Guerriero might have a bit of drawing power as he ran well in his 2011 bid, although whether that should be interpreted as quality in him or a lack of quality perceived in the incumbent who narrowly beat him, state Sen. Bob Kostelka, is an open question. It’s possible that anti-Riser Republicans might try to rally around Guerriero. As a proven commodity plus with a background as one of the all-talk, do-nothing “fiscal hawks” in the Legislature, Morris would be more likely to get that nod. Hunter is black and, if that wing of his party gets it together, could be the consensus candidate of that majority faction within their party.

But it seems fanciful for complete novice Kincaid to jump into an expensive, high-profile contest – unless he was a tool to render off white Democrats who would be expected to give a majority of their votes for Riser. If he makes the race, this would be indicated if he gets some money from Democrat-affiliated PACs and a few big donors. The purpose would be to have enough money to get his white face associated with the label “Democrat” around the district, and hope whites go all yellow-dog. Especially with multiple other credible Republicans in it to divide conservatives’ votes further, the wish would be that somehow Riser could be kept out the runoff and then Hunter could have a chance to win heads up against anybody but Riser. Given the district’s demographics, that’s the only prayer Democrats have of winning it absent some very unfortunate and unlikely circumstances for Riser between now and the election.

The Hail Mary gambit. But that may not be enough for anybody-but-Riser operatives, hence the wild report that realty television star Willie Robertson is being courted to run. Again, the point is to siphon off as many white votes from Riser as possible, and that’s made much easier by the relatively broad name recognition that Robertson is thought to enjoy, regardless of which affiliation he would choose for the ballot (he appears to be a Republican). As it appears that this is a phenomenon emanating from Washington, D.C., this means either anti-Riser Republicans or Democrats in GOP clothing are trying to insert him as a means of prying votes from Riser.

A more effective kind of candidate that can suck in white Democrats’ votes might be the likes of Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy. But from the perspective of black Democrat leaders, he might be too effective and actually make the runoff against Hunter, or even cost Hunter a runoff spot. Thus, they’ll do what they can to discourage this brand of candidacy in favor of a Little Red Riding Hood candidate who’s not too strong but not too weak. This expected noncooperation between party factions almost guarantees this kind of candidate would find the race too quixotic and would pass on it as a result.

Regardless of these gambits, Riser remains in a good position. Whereas Riser had around $100,000 banked and ready to go at the end of last year in his state campaign account (which would be transferred for a run at federal office) and PAC, Hunter only had about $5,000 and his 2011 disclosure form suggests limited self-financing opportunities. Guerriero had close to $140,000 left over, but Riser with a heads up probably has raised much more in 2013 and probably can raise more of it faster, including a considerable self-financing component through a lucrative business and as an existing officeholder in a large district, while Guerriero’s candidate disclosure for 2011 shows his family may be asset-rich but working capital-poor, hampering his self-financing.

Morris, yet another lawyer, was left completely flat-footed with no money at all in his state campaign account at the end of 2012, although his 2011 disclosure form shows he could have some decent self-financing capability. But he could ramp up a serious challenge were he to attract some heavy hitters to complement. And although Riser would seem very ideologically compatible with Sen. David Vitter, the only federally-elected official outside of the the district not to make an explicit endorsement of Riser, Vitter’s desire to have a hand in all aspects of politics in the state might lead him to back Morris and steer support his way.

With qualifying beginning next week, these gambits likely will play out to make Riser the early frontrunner but without his opponents conceding anything. So we can sit back and enjoy a show rarely seen in these parts.

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