On November 21st, 2015 after losing the Louisiana governor’s race, Senator David Vitter announced that he would not be seeking re-election. While not formally announced, two current Congressmen were widely expected to run, Charles Boustany of the 3rd Congressional District and John Fleming of the 4th District. Also expected to announce was state Treasurer John Kennedy. All three candidates had supported Vitter’s re-election campaign, hoping for a special appointment to the position. Retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness was considered likely to enter the race, having placed third in the 2014 Senate race, behind Mary Landrieu, the Democratic incumbent and Bill Cassidy, the Representative from the 6th Congressional District. Despite her status as incumbent, Bill Cassidy eventually ran the race. Having recently lost an election, it was unlikely that Mary Landrieu would run for Senate again.
By December 9th, the first survey was released by Survey USA and there were two more names to add to the list, Public Service Commissioners Foster Campbell of the 5th District and Scott Angelle of the 3rd. Being the only Democrat to consider running, Foster Campbell had a unique advantage for this survey and received 23% of the vote from likely voters polled. Kennedy came in a close second at 21%. The next candidates were Angelle at 12%, Charles Boustany polled at 10%, Maness 9%, and Fleming at 6%. With the nearest Republican being 9% behind him, Kennedy had a strong chance of making it to the runoff, but there was a problem. The state had just overwhelming voted in favor of a Democrat for Governor.
In the race that Vitter had just lost, Bel Edwards had received the lion’s share of the vote with 646,924 to Vitter’s 505,940. The winds of change were upon Louisiana. In this last Senate Race, 46.8% of the 2.9 Million voters were Democrat. In 2014, Landrieu pulled 619 thousand in the primary, while she pulled in 561,210 out of a possible 1.27 Million. Even if the Senate race had gone to a Republican the last time, it was still not going to be an easy race, especially while splitting the votes with other strong Republican names.
It needs to be noted that in Louisiana, elections are held differently than most. There is something known as a nonpartisan blanket primary, or more affectionately called a Jungle Primary. This creates a unique situation, as the top two candidates from the initial round of balloting move on to a runoff election. Statistically speaking, this is beneficial to incumbents, who have the greatest name recognition and greater access to media for free. With re-election rates for Congress and Senate already in excess of 80%, incumbents are all but guaranteed to win the election. When added to the ability to sponsor legislation and a large group of potential voters already looking to receive attention, the probability to taking out an incumbent is negligible. If any contender were to launch a serious challenge, it meant large amounts of funds would be required. It’s a corrupt politicians dream.
With Vitter’s retirement from the Senate, facing off versus an entrenched incumbent was not issue and there were a quite a number of established politicians in the race, all sharing the same ability to reach out to voters. In a state with a history of colorful elections, this one had an all-star cast. Except that they were all Republicans.
As Dr. Ed Chevrenak told WDSU news in 2015, with the exception of Mitch Landrieu, he “would be hard-pressed to find someone with the statewide name recognition.” But more importantly, another well known Democrat entered the fray, Caroline Fayard. A young powerful attorney, she ran in the 2010 race for Lt. Governor, losing out to Jay Dardenne. She had statewide recognition and a solid educational background, having worked in Goldman Sachs. By the time the February poll released by Southern Media & Opinion, Fayard was pulling 4% of the 500 likely voters, Foster with 10% with 32% undecided. 42% of Democrats were undecided, as well as 52% of blacks.
Over the months that followed, a few more names entered the fray. Troy Hebert, a former ATC Commissioner, he announced quickly that he was running as an independent. Joshua Pellerin, a young oil man from Boustany’s District, entered as a Democrat. He had been a donor to Boustany and Mary Landrieu over the years and had a multi-racial heritage he hoped to bank upon. Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese American, entered into the race as well, a Republican and a former U.S. Representative of the 2nd District. He lost the race to Cedric Richmond in 2010 after the District was redrawn and had a larger percentage of African American voters than in the past. Derrick Edwards of Baton Rouge, a paralyzed African American attorney, had also entered the race.
By June, a poll released by GBA Strategies and commissioned by Fayard’s campaign had her neck and neck with Campbell, with 14% of the vote to his 15%. After a closer inspection of the candidates by respondents, the poll noted showed her overtaking Campbell. The poll theorized that the winner between the two main democratic candidates would receive at least 22-25 percent of the vote in November and almost certainly advance. Campbell’s support was mainly built on the same North Louisiana voters in his District, approximately 600,000 likely voters. Fayard was based out of New Orleans and had the statewide recognition from her earlier race as Lt. Governor.
With John Kennedy at 30% of the initial vote, it was in the bag for Kennedy. However, there were still 4 solid names running. Boustany, Fleming, and Maness. Boustany’s 11% meant that ground had to be made up by his campaign if there was to be hope for two Republican candidates in the runoff.
By the end of qualification on July 22nd, a total of 24 candidates had entered the race and Caroline Fayard was neck and neck with Foster Campbell. Some of the other names were experienced politicians. There was Charles Marsala, a Republican Financial Analyst out of New Orleans and a former Mayor of California. Ahbay Patel, Indian Republican ex-investment banker.
There were other familiar names. Gary Landrieu, Democrat and cousin of Mitch and Mary Landrieu. He was a frequent, but unsuccessful candidate in many elections in Louisiana, most recently receiving 17% of the vote against Cedric Richmond in the 2014 race. Vinny Mendoza was a Democrat and candidate for the 1st Congressional district for nearly a decade suddenly changing races. Thomas Clements, a Libertarian who wanted to end the Federal Reserve and all Government spending. These perennial names never got much funding, but they were always quick to enter a race.
Then there was another class of candidate. Often referred to as “ballot squatters”, these candidates have little in the way of funding and intend to run mainly as a means of gaining name recognition for future races, or just a bit of free press and fame. Normally they never gain much support and are quickly marginalized. These included Peter Williams, a black Democrat and tree farmer. Beryl Billiot, a Native American USMC Veteran and a businessman was running as an independent. Bob Lang, a retired Fire Chief and Vietnam War Veteran, he was running as an independent. Gregory Taylor and Arden Wells were also in the race as independents.
With just an hour to go, the last candidate to qualify in the election, the race took prominence with the entrance of a candidate who brought hated memories and a strong desire to “Make America Great Again”, he also wanted to “Make America White Again.” That man, was the famed Dr. David Duke, a KKK Grand Wizard and former State Representative from Metarie. Skilled in politics, he nearly took the 1991 race against Edwin Edwards. His had achieved national fame during that race, with George W. Hebert Bush famously calling out that he had no place in politics. Duke ran for the Presidency over the years, until he was caught cheating on his campaign finances and sentenced to prison for 2 years in 2002.
David Duke had been widely quoted in the news as running for the 1st Congressional District, calling Steve Scalise a “sellout” and a “cuck” to the corporate interests, selling out to the big banks and the “Zionist” overlords seeking to take over this country. Apparently he had changed his mind in the last moments. I should know, after I qualified at 3 P.M., the first question I was asked was what did I had to say about David Duke. While I was waiting for my Uber, Sue Lincoln of Capital Access came out and said that he had called in to announce the change. Duke knew he couldn’t take enough of the vote in a statewide campaign to make it past the primary. However, he did make for good press as the national media quickly would pick up on his antics and like Pavlov’s dogs, they all came when he was ringing.
The first major forum for the race was for the International Women’s Organization held at the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. This debate held only the Democratic candidates for Senate and was rather tame. Fayard came out against the “old boys” club and re-iterated her stance on “equal pay for equal work” and declared her intention to take only 65% of the pay, the national average on what a woman earns to a man. Derrick Edwards attacked her on this foolhardy notion. Foster Campbell spoke well, but it was clearly Fayard’s show. She easily won the endorsement and the event was over. She mentioned David Duke, but since he was not at the event, the conversation never really picked up.
Fayard came out with the slogan, “Stop David Duke!” Quickly changing it into a hashtag, it began to trend on Facebook and Twitter. By August 3rd, 11 days after qualification, she was on the Rachel Maddow show, trying to show that Duke still had no place in politics. In fact, it was the entirety of the interview, with less than a minutes worth of material about something else. Even Donald Trump had relented and disavowed the former Klan leader early in the year… barely. When asked if Trump would support a Democrat over Duke if necessary, the answer given was “I guess depending on who’s the democrat, the answer would be yes.” In my honest opinion, the only Democrats Trump would have supported are Pellerin or Fayard, but I’ll come back to that.
On August 10th, the Alliance for Good Government held their first forum and arguably the most important multi-party forum in Louisiana, with the only two no-shows being Boustany and Kennedy. This is important because it is a tactic used by Kennedy throughout the campaign, he only showed up to 2 debates and those were televised. Any multi-race forums in New Orleans were left unattended. I never met Mr. Kennedy despite going to them all. Fayard took the endorsement once again and she started to solidify her position in the polls. 2 days later, tragedy struck and a thousand year flood hit the central portion of Louisiana.
The “Flood of 2016” was an event that changed much in Louisiana. Up until this point there was a lot of racial tension. In July of 2016, there had been two high profile shootings of police officers by lone African American veterans had been linked to the “Black Lives Matter” groups. The Dallas shootings by Micah Johnson on July 7th and the subsequent Baton Rouge shootings by Gavin Eugene Long had sent the nation into a froth of racial tension. BLM was being labeled as a hate group and Louisiana has always been known to be a hotspot of racial injustice and unrest. The flood washed that all away, showing the true nature of the people in Louisiana when you take away the media, neighbors who look out for each other.
While Louisiana was drowning and people were losing their homes, businesses, and personal possessions accumulated over a lifetime, the media across the country paid little attention to these events, instead focusing on the race riots occurring in Wisconsin during the same period. Despite outcries asking where the Government was and pleading for help, little attention was paid to the needs of Louisianans. It wasn’t until a week later that any attention was paid and that was from Donald Trump. Visiting for about an hour for a photo opportunity and a tour of the devastation, he said later that evening in Michigan “honestly, Obama ought to get off the golf course and get down there.” Four days later, Obama did visit, but the damage was done and he was criticized for being late. Hillary Clinton was also highly criticized and lost any chance to help the two Democratic candidates or her own chances in Louisiana. Perhaps the heavy criticism of her out of the state was a deterrent, but with the Congressional and House elections underway, her publicity would have perhaps helped the candidates foment a lead. By the end of the election, she never once visited Louisiana.
What did occur in Louisiana was a change in the tone of the Senate race. Climate change was now a big issue in Louisiana. Many did not believe in this before but the time was ripe to sway the opinions of the population, who had traditionally been die hard Oil and Gas industry supporters. August passed by quickly as relief efforts were underway. All of the Senate candidates were helping victims as they were on the campaign trail and not many were paying attention to politics. Even David Duke came out to dig a few ditches. By the end of August, most of the candidates were still largely unknown by the people in the state of Louisiana. Bob Mann, a historian and political columnist was quoted as saying “I would guess that nine out of 10 people couldn’t name more than one candidate if you waved $100 in their face.”
With Labor Day right around the corner, the unofficial kick off of the election season, this was about to change. Until now the only candidate running ads was Boustany, the biggest spender in the 2016 Louisiana Senate race, also the candidate trying to downplay the biggest scandal. Boustany had been linked to the Jefferson Davis 8, a group of prostitutes that were murdered several years before. Despite not being accused of the murders, he was portrayed as having utilized the services of at least three the victims in a book called “Murder on the Bayou” by Ethan Brown. When it came out that Martin P. Guillory, a field representative for Boustany, had business dealings with the hotel that the prostitutes were based out of, he was quickly fired. What was most interesting was the fact that no other candidate attacked Boustany on this topic, Republican or Democrat. It was as if the topic was too taboo in a state known for colorful attacks.
There were other attacks and nearly all of them were centered on America’s favorite Anti-Semite, David Duke. Fayard was not to be outdone, the Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism reactivated, including such heavy hitters as Trentt Lott, Newell Normand, Edwin Edwards, and Buddy Roemer. It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of Duke, rather than focus on topics, it was easier to focus on hate. Maness had been into it several times with Duke having called him out on Twitter with “I fought for your freedom of speech in uniform while you hid under a sheet.” However, by the end of September, Boustany had closed the gap on Kennedy and Fayard was in a dead heat with Campbell. According to the Southern Media & Opinion Research poll, Boustany was at 15.2% to Kennedy’s 16.9%, and Fayard was at 11.4% to Campbell’s 9.2.
Campbell quickly changed the game by attacking Fayard over her investments in video poker companies along with her family’s trust. Fayard attacked Campbell on pipeline regulation votes while owning states in a pipeline company. On the Republican side, Boustany cried foul over prostitution allegations and blaming Kennedy for the prostitution scandal. It seemed as if fighting within the same party was the deal of the day, rather than detracting from the other side of the table, which struck many as odd, since the ideal would be to get two candidates from the same party. Fayard continued to pick up speed as the month moved ahead, picking up endorsements from Orleans Parish Democratic Society, Mary Landrieu, Mitch Landrieu, James Carville and others.
David Duke once again made national news when there was an event at Jackson Square being sponsored by Take ‘Em Down NOLA. Take ‘Em Down had received national attention for their lawsuit against the Confederate Monuments in New Orleans, seeking to remove all signs of White Supremacy. Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, had agreed to the request, but litigation had tied up the issue for nearly a year. Take ‘Em Down proclaimed that they were going to take matters into their own hands, bringing rope with them to pull down the Jackson monument located at Jackson Square. David Duke cried out that he would defend the monument and showed up at the square, only to be chased away by locals before Take ‘Em Down even appeared.
On October 6th, the first televised debate occurred hosted by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana was broadcast, but by then, everyone in the state had lost interest in the Senate race. Constant media attention was focused on the jabs being thrown between the Clinton and Trump campaigns, which were getting more and more sensational. Rather than focus on a circus, the CRCL decided to limit the debate to 5 candidates based on the criteria of polling and a million in campaign contributions. On the Democratic side you had Fayard and Campbell and on the Republican side you had Boustany, Kennedy, and Fleming.
Maness, Hebert, and Marsala quickly denounced this decision and filed a lawsuit. Hebert stated “everybody knows that the system has been rigged in favor of the wealthy and now they just really put it in writing.” CRCL eventually allowed the others to produce 10 minutes videos to be featured. The low dollar candidates decided to produce their own webcast debate and Troy Hebert decided to do a spoof debate where he dressed as each of the participants in the CRCL debate. It was probably the most interesting debate of the election where he noted that “each of the candidates signed an affidavit that some of their best friends are black.”
The forum drew little attention and viewership. The main take-away from the debate was that none of the candidates believed in human involvement in climate change, except for Campbell, who came out strongly against the oil companies and declared decisively that there is a link. Fayard said legislation was not the way to approach the issue, being costly and lengthy.
On the 18th of October, new details emerged when Maness went to the media with allegations that he had been approached by Paul Dickson, claiming to be the individual running the John Fleming PAC. Maness claimed that he was told that he would be “finished as a politician” if he did not. Denials quickly were released by Dickson. Seemingly unrelated, at least according to the press, two days later Ahbay Patel dropped out of the race and endorsed Boustany.
Near the end of October, a new Mason-Dixon poll was released and David Duke was polled at 5% and included at the upcoming Dillard Debate, a famous African University. Despite having no funds in his campaign account, a critical factor in the prior CRCL debate, the inclusion of Duke shocked the news media and once again Louisiana’s senate race made national news. Hosted on November 2nd, the debate shocked the country as black students were not allowed to attend the debate. Instead they were gassed as they protested the former Grand Wizard of the Klan as he took part in the debate inside. Most of the time was spent throwing jabs at Duke while students were carted off to jail. Little else was talked about in the debate and it was criticized heavily by the media afterwards.
Fayard then launched what was later referred to as a “scorched earth” campaign, where she released a photo of Campbell briefly shaking hands with Duke in passing at the Alliance for Good Government forum. Another advertisement included a snippet of Campbell saying “I may be like Mr. Duke” when the full statement included “I might be able to name like 10 tax exemptions.” The AGG disavowed the attack and quickly rescinded the endorsement she had received earlier in the election cycle.
On November 8th, Louisiana went to the polls finally, with a large turnout from a long election cycle. Despite the stakes, only 30,000 more voters than the 2012 elections showed up. Kennedy received 25% of the vote and Campbell received 17%, pushing both candidates into the runoff. It seems that the campaign ads run by Fayard had done her in. Boustany got third with 15% and Fayard rang in at fourth place with 12% of the vote. Nearly 100,000 voters did not bother to cast a vote in the Senate race.
Over the next month the campaign trail was largely ignored by Louisiana, with everyone’s focus on the election of Donald Trump. Protests raged and liberals activated behind Campbell, but ultimately to little avail. Kennedy with knowledge of a comfortable lead, launched no attack advertisements and participated in no public debates with Campbell. The art of ignoring his opponent was mastered by the end of the campaign. Having little interest in politics, voters turned out at less than half of the number from the November race. Just 29.2% of qualified voters came to the polls and Kennedy easily won the Senate race, garnering an impressive 61% of the vote. Orleans parish, the most heavily Democratic region of the state, showed up with only 29.7% of the qualified voters.
In the end, there are a few lessons that can be learned from this race. The first is that if you have a lead in the polls, the best thing to do is ignore your opponents. Second, running negative advertisements can go both ways, leading to the contempt of your voters as in the case of Fayard, who lost quite a few votes because of her linking Campbell to Duke. Unfortunately for Campbell, those links were not easily broken as many constituents still felt Campbell was in the end “just like Mr. Duke.” The percentages are still rolling in for the Senate race and this paper is not done, unfortunately the time remaining for this course is. It’s my belief that the voter turnout will show that few Democrats even bothered to vote in this election. Time will tell but my time is up.