One thing that has been somewhat interesting to us in the early stages of the Louisiana Senate campaign is the question of why John Fleming, the congressman from northwest Louisiana with probably the best conservative record in the race, wasn’t catching more fire. A number of factors could account for this, of course – Fleming was largely unknown south of Alexandria, where most of the state’s population lies, he has competition among ideological conservatives with Rob Maness in the race, the fact he’s a sitting congressman isn’t quite the asset – in fact it might even be a hindrance, given the current climate – that one would expect it to be, and with Donald Trump, who won the Louisiana primary, as the GOP nominee and David Vitter having lost badly in his gubernatorial bid last year it doesn’t look like ideological conservatism is in particular favor with the electorate at present.
With those factors in place, Fleming would seem to have an uphill battle against John Kennedy, the state’s most popular elected official and a talented politician armed with conservative-sounding rhetoric, and moderate Republican congressman Charles Boustany, who is better known in South Louisiana, for the Republican spot in the runoff. Assuming, that is, that there is only one Republican spot and that either Caroline Fayard or Foster Campbell will make it past the Nov. 8 primary.
But two things seem to finally be breaking Fleming’s way in the race. First is the unmistakable decline in Kennedy’s poll numbers. He’s gone from the low 30’s to the teens in the polls, largely because Boustany and Fleming have been on TV and he hasn’t, and while Kennedy is still a viable contender for the runoff if not the favorite in the race, he’s lost the air of inevitability that he held in the early stages.
Kennedy’s camp’s response to that trend is that he’s been quiet of late with respect to paid media while others have been shooting all their bullets, and this week he’s up on TV – which will be the case for the rest of the cycle. His camp says that will pump his numbers back up and he’s still the frontrunner in the race.
We’ll see if that pans out.
The other thing breaking in the race is the allegations made in the new book Murder In The Bayou, which connect Boustany to a whorehouse in Jennings owned and operated by a staffer of his named Martin “Big G” Guillory. The establishment in question, The Boudreaux Inn, functioned as a workplace for several prostitutes who turned up dead in Jefferson Davis Parish between 2005 and 2009, and the book cites witnesses who claim to have seen Boustany on that premises. Worse yet, the allegation is made that Boustany was a client of one or more of the prostitutes. Boustany has flatly denied the allegations that he consorted with any ladies of the evening, but Guillory was fired. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that Guillory owned the whorehouse while he was working for Boustany; that alone is politically toxic.
So far the Murder In The Bayou allegations haven’t appeared to negatively affect Boustany, though Kennedy has pushed them. There is fear, and it’s quite reasonable, however, that should Boustany end up in a runoff with Campbell or Fayard the Democrat would unload the hooker allegations on him for the full four weeks of the runoff and use them as a cudgel to beat the Senate seat out of the GOP in the same way that John Bel Edwards wrested the governor’s mansion away from the party by playing the hooker card against Vitter.
So if Kennedy is plummeting and Boustany has a political sword of Damocles over his head, what’s a Republican voter to do?
Well, perhaps back Fleming.
Which would seem to be the conclusion one would draw from the poll released on Monday by JMC Analytics. Pollster John Couvillon, who it should be noted is working for Fleming, put out the results of a survey which had Fleming within a point of the lead in the race and Kennedy taking a dive all the way down to fifth place in a crowded and confused contest. Fleming sits at 14 percent, just behind Boustany and Campbell who are tied at 15, with Fayard at 12 and Kennedy at 11.
Whether the poll is accurate or not, it stands to reason that Fleming’s statewide advertising campaign would have contributed to some growth in the polls – and coupled with the above factors he might now have an opening to build support.
And real or not, that’s the narrative the Fleming campaign is hawking today.
Here’s the memo put out by Fleming’s communications director Matt Beynon this morning…
Since the Labor Day holiday weekend, the crowded and sleepy race to replace retiring United States Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has picked up steam – and with it a dramatic shift in campaign dynamics.
Prior to Labor Day, the minimal public and private polling available showed State Treasurer John Kennedy (R-LA) with a commanding lead. While there were danger signs simmering below the surface for Kennedy, his campaign maintained that he was the inevitable front-runner to replace Vitter. In fact, many of the earliest polls, though results were heavily reliant on name recognition, showed Kennedy with upwards of a 20-point lead over his nearest competitor. However, over the past month, the dynamics of the race have quickly shifted away from Kennedy and toward Congressman John Fleming.
As noted in the Fleming for Senate campaign’s June State of the Race memorandum, Dr. Fleming committed to building the strongest grassroots campaign in the field. Today the Fleming Campaign has field offices in each region of the state – led by over a dozen staff and 80 interns. Coupled with a strong post-Labor Day paid media campaign that began September 6th, the Fleming Campaign team has made over 330,000 person-to-person voter contacts since Labor Day alone.
Fleming’s Campaign strength is beginning to be seen in the poll trend:
The shift toward Fleming and away from Kennedy has been noted throughout the Louisiana political arena, and with recent polling, is now becoming more widely recognized. Last week, respected Louisiana political insider Jeremy Alford noted that “Fleming is the candidate on the move” in the race, with at least two other campaigns showing Fleming “within the margins of the leading candidates” in their internal polling. Monday’s JMC Analytics poll simply confirmed what insiders like Alford had been hearing for some time.
The reason for Fleming’s rise is attributable to his strong campaign, but also to his strong campaign message. While Boustany and Kennedy have dove into the gutter of campaign politics, slinging personal accusations at each other, Fleming has focused on doing his job in Washington, DC and his campaign has focused on spreading the news of his many conservative accomplishments. Just this month, Fleming led the fight in Congress to hold the rogue IRS Commissioner accountable at a time when Congressman Boustany could not even be found to honor the victims of the devastating Louisiana floods during the congressional moment of silence. In fact, Boustany was the only member of the Louisiana congressional delegation – Republican or Democrat – to miss this solemn moment of silence.
As a result of Kennedy and Boustany’s infighting, Boustany’s initial August momentum following the launch of his $2 million paid media campaign has stalled and Kennedy’s lead has collapsed. Worse yet for Kennedy, bleeding support only makes it more difficult to win back voters. It’s far easier to win over voters than win them back – and John Kennedy is in the inevitable position of having to convince voters to give his campaign another look. At a time when he has made personal allegations against Charles Boustany the centerpiece of his campaign, it is becoming more and more difficult for Kennedy to give voters a rationale to vote for him rather than against one of his opponents.
Meanwhile, Boustany’s overall lack of attention to Louisiana while running for the Senate has been alarming. While missing the congressional moment of silence honoring flood victims was an unforced error, the fact that he has missed over 20% of votes taken during September is professional malpractice. By comparison, John Fleming has a 99% voting attendance record during September – showing that he is able to both campaign for U.S. Senate while also doing the job the voters of Louisiana’s 4th congressional district sent him to do. Sadly, Charles Boustany is proving he is incapable of juggling his day job on behalf of his constituents and is personal political aspirations.
Voters are just now getting to know John Fleming and as his statewide name identification has risen, voters are now moving to his campaign – doubling his support since Labor Day. The Fleming Campaign is one of the only three campaigns in the race with the resources necessary to compete on the airwaves, in the grassroots, and on the campaign trail between now and Election Day.
With momentum at his back, Dr. John Fleming is well positioned to make the inevitable Louisiana Senate run-off this December and emerge as Louisiana’s next United States Senator.
We probably need to see another independent poll before we’ll know whether Fleming’s bump is real or just the product of an internal poll. But at this point what’s fair to say is the Senate race is now a five-way jumble and nobody really knows how it’s going to shake out.