LUNSFORD: Congressman Kyle Ardoin?

(By Michael Lunsford/Citizens for a New Louisiana, 1 July 2024) — Congressman Kyle Ardoin has a nice ring to it, no? There are so many complexities with Louisiana’s congressional districts lately that it’s understandable for Garret Graves to step aside and reassess. After redistricting in 2022, Graves’ District Six mostly circled the Baton Rouge area and southward. However, due to federal court interference in our redistricting process (which we’ve since discovered was unnecessary) the new map stretches from a portion of East Baton Rouge Parish northward. Observing both maps, it’s clear that District 6 contains such a small fraction of its former voters that it’s something completely new and different.

Graves is a household name in his 2022 district, but not many people know of him in other parts of the state. Perhaps the legislature will take up the district again now that the Supreme Court will not tolerate lower courts meddling with the boundaries. Unfortunately, there’s no time to do that now and hold an election for that district in November. To make things more complex, Graves announced in mid-June that he would not seek reelection, citing the new congressional district map. That doesn’t leave much time for someone else to pick up and run with the ball. Qualifying for that seat happens just weeks from now, between July 17 and 19. Who could possibly launch a campaign, raise money, hire consultants, and have any chance in that district?

Some Demographics to Consider

As of June 1, the Secretary of State’s demographic data for the sixth district still reports 59% white, 36% black, and 5% other. However, some third-party data I’m reviewing that has already adjusted the statistical data for the new parishes and precincts reflects that the district is now 41% white, 56% black, and 4% other. If we account for people who vote somewhat frequently in any election, the spread shifts to 47% white, 50% black, and 3% other.

This district votes incredibly close racially. We must also consider the recent presidential debate performance as a motivator and demotivator for the different sides. Will depressed Democrats just not show up at the polls? Indeed, the 2020 election motivates the Republicans to turn out stronger this time. Trump’s incredible debate performance has also energized his Republican base. The Libertarians and “other” parties have mostly moved into Trump’s column. In fact, I even know Democrats who are going to “cross the aisle” because Biden’s policies have decimated the middle class. Several told me that even before the debate. Making up three percent (3%) in such a climate is well inside the realm of possibility.

Who Could Run in Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District?

There’s been chatter about finding a solid African-American conservative to run for the 6th Congressional seat. They exist, and quite a few have a fair amount of name recognition. Claston Bernard ran for District 2 last time around. He could again, too. District 2 is also much closer demographically than it had been, thanks to redistricting.

Then there’s conservative darling Elbert Guillory. However, here’s where I find the limit of my knowledge. Is there another? Surely, there are moderate or even conservative Democrats who could jump in, but they aren’t coming to mind. Even if they did, they’d still vote for radical Hakeem Jeffries as Speaker of the House. No, Republicans will need a Republican. There’s just no way around it.

Some folks with a modest amount of name ID might include former President of the Senate “Blank” Page Cortez or even former Speaker of the House Clay “Shakedown” Schexnayder. Neither of them is anywhere near the district, though. They also have a repugnant aura thanks to the dirty deals they struck with John Bel Edwards. Who else, then?

Let’s Consider Kyle Ardoin

While Ardoin is not technically in the 2024 version of District 6, he was in the 2022 version. Even in the 2024 version, he’s surrounded on three sides by District 6 and only a half-mile away from the boundary line. Interestingly, the Louisiana Constitution predicts this scenario in Article III Section 4. Following reapportionment, anyone drawn out of a legislative district may still run in the old district. I mention this only because someone is bound to be confused about qualifications or bring it up as a reason for him not to run. In congressional races, however, one needn’t be in the district to run or represent it. Believe it or not, having a Congressman who resides outside the district is not uncommon.

As my good friend (and board member) Ross Little likes to say, the best candidate doesn’t always win; the one with the most votes does. How does that happen? Name recognition. People are more apt to vote for a name they know and have known than for a newcomer they’ve never heard of. Of course, there are exceptions for the most articulate of candidates. However, it’s incredibly rare for someone to show up out of nowhere and snatch up a congressional seat. If you have name recognition, you don’t have to buy it. However, if you don’t have it, it can be expensive.

If you’re reading this, you’re politically savvy enough to know Kyle Ardoin‘s name. Until a few months ago, he was the twice-elected Secretary of State. That means he has built-in name recognition all over the state – not just around Baton Rouge. I can’t put a value on that, but having a known name is step one in any election. Kyle Ardoin also has a campaign account that contains nearly a quarter of a million dollars. It’s not the million or two someone might like to have for such an undertaking. However, he’s not starting from zero and doesn’t need to buy as much name recognition as the other candidates would.

As the former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, he already has contacts in Washington DC and nationwide. I occasionally run into some of them at national conservative gatherings. When they see my Citizens for a New Louisiana pin with a prominent red Louisiana, they always ask me about Kyle Ardoin. Read that again. No offense to other popular state-wide elected officials in Louisiana, but that strikes me as significant.

Money and Consultants

Even though Kyle Ardoin has deep contacts with the donor class, he’ll still need to find, hire, and fund an excellent political consultant. I have good news: he already has one. And this isn’t just any old consultant, either. We’re talking about the gifted (and perhaps somewhat notorious) Lionel Rainey. Known chiefly in political circles, Rainey is sharp, incredibly well-connected, and quite adept at fundraising.

You may know Rainey from running PACs and dark money operations for Shakedown Schexnayder and Blank Page Cortez. Even though he was not in the press, he also had a desk in the Capitol press corps office (something that has eluded us for a few years). More recently, he was the chairman of the Reboot LA PAC, supporting Stephen Waguespack’s run for governor. Without checking my files, I recall that Rainey raised around $4 million in a compressed timeline for that effort. That’s no small feat!

Just to put an exclamation point on this, Lionel Rainey is not the run-of-the-mill political consultant that your brother-in-law knows. When spotted around the Capitol, people whisper his name while subtly motioning in his direction. All the politicos know Rainey has the knowledge, talent, and experience to pull this off.

Can Republicans Work Together?

I’ve been watching and waiting for a Republican candidate to materialize for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District. So far, none of the prominent political circles has a name or a plan they’re willing to share. Kyle Ardoin has the name recognition, the campaign account, the contacts, and the consultant to make an actual race of this. Trump is surging in the polls while Biden is slipping. In addition, Ardoin is closer to the middle of the political spectrum. He’s well-known and respected and has never waded into those divisive social issues. He’s a great cross-over candidate for a deeply purple district.

But Republicans are infamously the party of unherdable cats. If Kyle Ardoin goes into the wilderness to accomplish something great for Louisiana, who will have his back? Will Republicans across the state get behind him and push? While the Democrats are out there trying to out-Left each other, can the Republican party coalesce behind a Reasonable Republican candidate like Kyle Ardoin? They should.

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