Here’s the ad…
Fleming’s positioning in Louisiana’s Senate race is going to be one of the most interesting angles in this cycle. His draw is that he’s a down-the-line, hard-core conservative and can prove it with his record in Congress, and that is a draw in what is supposed to be a deep-red state.
But there are a couple of problems he’s going to have to overcome within that positioning. First, Fleming has Rob Maness in the race. And while he’s got a lot more money on hand than Maness has, Maness is better known in New Orleans and Baton Rouge than Fleming, whose geographic strength is centered in his North Louisiana district away from the state’s major population density. That makes Maness a problem for Fleming; how does he get him out of the race or marginalize him to the extent of capturing the conservative vote in South Louisiana?
And the other problem is John Kennedy, who can’t claim the conservative mantle Fleming can; Kennedy was, after all, a Democrat in 2007 and ran for the Senate in 2004 as a liberal. But Kennedy has built a brand for himself as a fiscal conservative and a common-sense politician who takes unideological positions conservatives are attracted to. If you’re a movement conservative you might prefer Fleming to Kennedy, but the latter has made enough pleasant noises in the past several years, including giving strong support to David Vitter’s gubernatorial campaign last year and emerging as a major pain in John Bel Edwards’ rear end this year, that the state’s conservative ideologues wouldn’t currently oppose him. So Fleming has to find a way to take Kennedy down from the right.
Which will be a tough thing to do. He’s either going to have to burn Kennedy down in the primary and set himself up as the Republican candidate against Foster Campbell, Josh Pellerin or Caroline Fayard, which is going to be a tall order, or he would have to do it in a runoff after the three Democrats split their votes equally enough for Fleming to climb over Maness and Charles Boustany to sneak into the runoff. But then he’s got to find a way to beat Kennedy from the right while getting lots of Democrat votes against somebody who used to be a Democrat.
We haven’t quite figured out how a Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket would affect this race. Fleming is much more of a Ted Cruz guy, so embracing Trump isn’t a great fit for him – particularly if he’s going to run as a dyed-in-the-wool, Freedom Caucus conservative. And then there is the fact Trump’s state co-chairman, Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, still hasn’t ruled out jumping into the race late; Skrmetta might well have played this thing beautifully in that he could have the Republican nominee coming in and stumping for him with epithets like Flippin’ Kennedy or Angry Fleming or whatever, and that obviously works in 2016. Skrmetta might even ride those coattails into status as a dark horse; who knows?
Still, it’s a good ad. And it gives voters a clear picture of what they’d be buying with Fleming, who can message himself as the honest, no-frills man in the race Louisiana needs.