James Varney had a noteworthy column at NOLA.com yesterday on Rob Maness, and the candidate’s scoffing at suggestions he ought to get out of the Senate race before the November primary. The piece contained a mini-interview with Maness which had this…
Q: Although in the past some people, who you don’t want to name, urged you to withdraw, no one is putting pressure on you now, on the party side, on the, what’s the word I’m looking for here, on the organizational side?
Maness: No, there’s been no phone calls or e-mails or any of that.
Q: How do you feel when you hear people say, “he’s a Manchurian candidate, he’s not in it to win it, he’s here because he’s trying to gum up the works.” How do you respond to that?
Maness: I think they’re doing the voters of Louisiana a disservice, quite frankly, because you know the split-the-vote tactic is a scare tactic. It doesn’t really apply on Nov. 4. It’s simple: vote for me or a vote for any other candidate besides Senator Landrieu is not a vote for Senator Landrieu. It’s not going to ensure that she gets to 50 percent. Now, if she was statistically looking at being over 50 percent and that was part of the race there’s be a different discussion happening. But that’s just not the facts, the facts don’t bear that out, and they’ve never borne that out and we’ve heard that argument for well over a year now.
Maness also said that in the event Landrieu was able to climb above 50 percent in November and eliminate a runoff in the race, he wouldn’t regret running because he’d have “given Louisiana voters a choice.”
The problem is that if you’re not going to win, and your presence in the race serves to help the opponent you’re most interested in seeing lose, giving the voters a choice might be a nice consideration but it’s not the most important one. The most important consideration in electoral politics is that if your candidacy makes you useful to your political adversaries, you’re in the wrong race.
Which is where Maness has been for a while.
State Rep. Paul Hollis, who spent a few months as a Senate candidate before getting out and endorsing Bill Cassidy, set the model for how to run a longshot campaign like the one Maness is persisting with. Hollis got in, spent some money, raised a little, increased his name recognition, made some friends along the way, beat Mary Landrieu up and then got out well before qualifying. Now a lot of people around the state know who Hollis is, and he’s put himself in position to run for something in the future. He’ll have an opportunity to pursue one of the down-ballot statewide offices next year, or maybe even get into the 2016 Senate fray should David Vitter be elected governor next year.
Those opportunities might have been available for Maness had he done what Hollis did. But he hasn’t done that.
And yes, there are conservatives in Louisiana who really wanted a firebrand candidate like a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or Mike Lee or Rand Paul in this race, which Cassidy – at least in rhetorical style, if not necessarily on substance – really isn’t. Those conservatives have been flirting with Maness for a while, and some of them have taken the plunge with him. To such an extent that Maness is now managing to make his way into the low teens in the polls. That’s twice or three times what he was polling back in, say, March.
Back in March nobody was paying attention to Maness. Back in March his campaign staff was almost exclusively from Louisiana. Now, almost none of it is.
Some of that was just the natural turnover a campaign goes through, some of it was the stress of a longshot campaign. But some of it was a recognition by the Louisiana staffers, who had worked campaigns in this state before, that Maness simply wasn’t viable.
How did they know this? Here’s an article from The Hill, dated March 7, which you may not ever have seen…
Louisiana Senate hopeful Rob Maness takes a hard line on spending issues, even when it comes to Hurricane Katrina relief funding.
The retired Air Force colonel told The Hill in an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he wouldn’t have voted for the $51.8 billion aid package that helped Louisiana residents rebuild after the storm devastated the Louisiana Gulf Coast in 2005.
Say whaaaaat? Here’s a little more…
But while McDaniel said he didn’t know how he would have voted, calling the massive bill not an “easy vote to cast,” Maness says he would have voted no. The aid package was passed with little opposition after the storm but has since drawn scrutiny because of reports of waste and fraud in the program.
“Just like I wouldn’t have voted for the [Hurricane] Sandy [aid] bill that had $60 billion dollars, I believe, in bloated special interest spending in it, I wouldn’t have voted for that bill either because you’ve gotta start holding on principle and stop spending so much money,” he said. “Our country’s got a spending problem, it doesn’t have a revenue problem.”
Therein lies the difference between a Chris McDaniel, who was a viable candidate and by all rights ought to be the Republican nominee in Mississippi, and a Rob Maness who will struggle to get more than 10-12 percent of the vote in November. McDaniel, who hails from Hattiesburg, not too far from the Gulf Coast, has some experience as an elected official and knows that while there might have been some waste in the Katrina relief bill you simply cannot vote against the fundamental interests of your constituents. The smart play, when asked a hypothetical question squeezing you between principle and political survival, is to demur.
And as a matter of practical politics and policy, you can posture and pose all you want. But when it comes time for legislating, you’re going to do everything you can to keep the lard and filth and waste and abuse out of a bill to provide hurricane relief for your constituents and then you’re going to vote to pass the bill. Hurricane relief is not pork; it’s a function of government we pay taxes for. Particularly in Louisiana, and particularly in New Orleans, and particularly when Katrina hits, for two reasons. First, it was Uncle Sam’s deficiently-designed levees which failed and flooded the city, and second, it was Uncle Sam’s Corps of Engineers making the decision to levee the Mississippi River all the way to its mouth and thus rob the marshes to the south and east of the city of their annual deposit of silt which would have helped to protect New Orleans from the Katrina floodwaters.
No Louisiana politician, regardless of how fiscally conservative, would swim against that tide. The threat of flooding in New Orleans from hurricanes is greatly enhanced by decisions made by the federal government over the years. We know it, and therefore it’s properly a third rail of Louisiana politics that if and when the Big One hits like Katrina did the feds are on the hook.
To say you’ll vote against Katrina relief is disqualifying in Louisiana. You simply cannot get elected to statewide office as an opponent of federal hurricane relief.
Maness lost a number of his Louisiana staffers after making that comment, though the electorate didn’t really notice it at the time. He was at four or five percent in the polls and he was barely getting any attention. Nevertheless, he knew he had stepped in it, so he put out a statement walking the comment back…
“If I had been in Congress, I would have been as strong as any advocate for aid for the people of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” Maness wrote in an email Monday. “The federal government should provide aid in such a catastrophic circumstance, especially when the failures of federal levees were partly to blame. I would have passionately engaged in an effort to promote and pass a clean bill, setting aside funding for relief.”
But he said he still would have voted no because unrelated expenditures were added to the 2005 disaster legislation.
“I would have voted no on the pork-laden bill that included $25 million for a research lab that had not been built, $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Iowa and other spending, and other pet projects,” Maness said. “I would have been bold in press conferences denouncing anyone who opposed a clean bill to help the people of Louisiana instead of holding them hostage like the political class did.
“It is not I who would have been against Katrina aid; it would have been the politicians who voted against it without bribes in the bill for their pet projects. The tactics they employ show they are not one of us.”
Let’s say this question resurfaced now, and Maness’ position on hurricane relief got a re-examination. Do you think the denunciation of pork makes a difference to the voters?
A clue: it doesn’t. Yes, you do what you can to get rid of the pork. But what you cannot do, and Maness never actually makes it clear that he understands this, is allow the hurricane relief bill to fail. If Tom Harkin wants his indoor rainforest and Mark Kirk wants bike trails through Chicago’s South Side, and they refuse to support the bill unless they get their goodies – they have you over a barrel and they’re going to get those things. That’s reality. It is not realistic to take the position that you’re for a clean hurricane relief bill, and if they won’t give you one it’s their fault and not yours that your constituents have now lost everything and will be destitute thanks to Uncle Sam’s lousy levees.
What else is reality is Rob Maness is not electable to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana. Were he to make the runoff with Mary Landrieu you would hear five solid weeks of “Rob Maness is opposed to hurricane relief,” and it would be impossible for Maness to repair the damage or explain that what he really hates is pork that greases the way for hurricane relief. When you’re explaining, you’re losing, and he would be explaining that comment all the way to Landrieu’s re-election in December.
So if you want to vote for Maness, feel free to do so. Just like he’s free to continue running. But we all need to understand this is a dead-end campaign. It isn’t going anywhere, and the more successful Maness is in this race the more likely it is that Landrieu gets another Senate term.
When the calculus turns out that way, most smart politicians bow out. But Maness hasn’t.