No, The Senate Runoff Will Not Have Two Democrats In It

Christopher Tidmore at The Louisiana Weekly wrote an interesting piece about the Louisiana Senate race. He mapped out a scenario where two Democrats can enter the runoff in November.

He starts out by arguing that Democrats have a hard floor of 32-38% in the state. That is if the Democrats don’t put any effort in the race. But Democrats could boost that floor to 43% with well-financed candidates. I can’t disagree with any of that.

However, here’s the scenario:

Currently, Acadiana 3rd District Congressman Charles Boustany, North Louisiana’s 4th District Congressman John Fleming, former New Orleans 2nd District Congressman Joseph Cao, State Treasurer John Kennedy, and retired Air Force Colonel and 2014 Senate candidate Rob Maness have all declared to run this year.

Metairie Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta is considering a Senate bid, as is St. Tammany State Rep. Paul Hollis, rounding out the prominence of the GOP field. Even if Skrmetta and Hollis—both millionaires who can self-finance – demur from running, the competitive Republican contest still cannibalizes their core vote.

Dr. Charles Boustany will stand as the Cajun candidate on the GOP side, earning him the Franco-ethnic loyalty that nearly propelled Scott Angelle into the gubernatorial runoff last year.

Moreover, while starting out behind in the money race, Boustany raised $610,744 in the third quarter, $553,000 in the fourth quarter, and $700,000 in the first quarter of 2016, outpacing Dr. John Fleming by hundreds of thousands, according to the FEC. Boustany trails his fellow, sitting Congressman, $2.3 million to $1.9 million, but at his current rate of fundraising, may surpass the Minden doctor-turned-Rep.

The North Louisiana Republican MD fights a proverbial knife fight against Col. Rob Maness for the Tea Party vote. On paper, Fleming should be the obvious standard-bearer. His Congressional voting record aligns with the ‘Freedom Caucus’.

Col. Maness also won 13.76 percent of the vote in 2014 against Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu, demonstrating his strength with conservatives. The two men split the activist Right this year, in other words. That should mean in a normal political environment the more moderate Boustany would combine his base and centrist politics to claim a runoff slot. Except Boustany fights for that narrow turf with John Neely Kennedy.

The State Treasurer might have had trouble transferring his $1 million state campaign fund into a Federal SuperPAC, but he maintains $700,000 in the bank and a position as the populist fiscal watchdog of Baton Rouge. His base in Baton Rouge is shakier than Boustany’s in Acadiana, but Kennedy’s statewide appeal blunts Boustany’s expansion into the GOP Center Right.

Not nearly as much as Joseph Cao, though. The only NOLA Republican remaining post-Young capable of winning a portion of Democratic votes, the former GOP Congressman from New Orleans’ Black majority District is even more popular amongst Independents who normally vote Republican. His strength in Louisiana’s growing Asian community, as a minority candidate, can draw moderate voters in ways his Caucasian rivals cannot hope.

Despite Cao’s crossover appeal, the former Vietnamese-American Congressman lacks big money. In other words, nearly all the Republican candidates blunt one another’s advantages. If the typical GOP result in post-Obama administration-Louisiana amounts to winning an average of 55 percent of the vote, dividing the conservative electorate in four relatively equal ways amounts to each winning just 13.75 percent, or just what a low performing, well-financed Democrat can surpass, even in a crowded field.

Add millionaire elected GOP officials Skrmetta or Hollis to the Senate race, with bases in Metro New Orleans, and appeals to the center and Right respectively, and each GOPer might win just 10 percent.

The biggest “wild card” in this scenario remains former State Senator and Democrat-turned-Independent Troy Hebert. Just finishing a term in January as Jindal’s Alcohol & Tobacco Control Commissioner, Hebert announced his Senate bid — just before the public became aware that he was under FBI investigation for issuing a temporary operations permit to a New Orleans woman who had problems with a liquor license —allegedly in exchange for sexual favors.

Hebert had planned on an “Independent campaign” drawing Democrats and Republicans. However, his February 26 hearty endorsement of Donald Trump as the only presidential candidate “with guts” notched down Democratic enthusiasm for his candidacy.

Hebert, who styles himself as a John Georges-style crossover Independent, would likely only draw support from the GOP side of the vote, intensifying the Republicans’ challenge in earning a runoff slot in the 2016 Senate race. Under this scenario, even if two of the three Democrats win just 18 percent of the vote, both could earn runoff slots over their Republican rivals.

Here are the flaws in the scenario:

Eric Skrmetta and Paul Hollis are both going to ultimately decide against running. At the end of the day, both Skrmettta and Hollis are likely going to pass on the Senate race. If one of them decides to run, it will be because Charles Boustany, John Fleming, John Kennedy, or Rob Maness were unable to lockdown the New Orleans area. Out of Skrmetta or Hollis we expect Skrmetta would be the one who would make a run because he’s further along in the process.

Troy Hebert will not be a factor. Hebert can’t raise money and we doubt that anyone will actually support him. This will be Ernest Wooten’s U.S. Senate run in 2010 all over again. He’ll be lucky to get double digit support.

Joseph Cao will not be a factor. Cao at this point is a perennial candidate who is trying to pay off his 2010 debts. He’s more likely to get single digits than win decent percentage of the vote.

John Kennedy has genuine crossover appeal. John Kennedy is the most popular statewide elected official. Both Democrats and Republicans like him. He shrinks the Democrat floor. You have to punch him a ticket in the runoff with at least 30%.

What’s more likely is that there will be two Republicans in the runoff than two Democrats. An all Democrat runoff is too far fetched, even for John Bel Edwards’s Louisiana.

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