At one of the few forums held in the Florida parishes portion of the 5th Congressional District, candidates waxed on about Obamacare, Common Core curricula, the stalemate in Washington, D.C., the Bible and the influence of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
But loquaciousness turned to stammers when someone asked them to name the longtime mayor of Roseland. It’s Wanda “Yodie” McCoy, but the northeast and central Louisiana politicians didn’t know who ran the town north of Hammond.
One of the candidates, state Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, blamed the rushed way this election was handled. “We haven’t had the time to really visit the people as we should have,” Hunter said.
When early voting starts Saturday, only 60 days will have passed since U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, abruptly announced he would resign in the middle of his two-year term.
Only about 15 percent of the 5th District’s registered voters live in the Florida parishes portion of the 5th district. About 21 percent of the registered voters live in Ouachita Parish and another 17.4 percent live in Rapides Parish, the two areas from whence the candidates hail and where they have spent most of their time and treasure campaigning.
There are Democrats, Libertarians, even a Green Party candidate; but the experts — including the Cook Political Report and The Rothenberg Political Report — say the district that backed Mitt Romney with 60 percent of the vote surely will stay in Republican hands. Even the national Democrats have stayed away.
The race has been defined, fairly or not, as being orchestrated by Jindal to benefit state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia.
Fealty to Jindal has played an important role in Riser’s political advertising in previous runs for office. Riser announced his candidacy, started up his website, organized his campaign operation, and nailed down endorsements of key state and national Republicans almost immediately after Jindal set the Oct. 19 special election. Riser then hired Jindal’s top political strategist, Timmy Teepell.
Riser, Teepell and Jindal’s aides deny any collusion.
But U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana’s ranking Republican in Washington, doesn’t seem to buy it. When asked if he thought Jindal had a hand in the timing, Vitter said: “It’s a very quick election, and it’s obvious that didn’t happen by accident.”
The television commercial being aired by Republican state Rep. Jay Morris, of Monroe, opposes Obamacare but talks mostly about insider political influence.
Former congressman and current Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, R-Forest Hills, said the timing angered him. Before jumping in, Holloway said he commissioned a “name recognition” poll.
Verne Kennedy of Market Research Insight in Gulf Breeze, Fla., phoned 450 Louisiana voters between Aug. 13 and Aug. 15 to ask if they had heard of a list of people, including politicians who flirted with running, but didn’t. Only 35 percent of those polled could identify Riser and 15 percent had a favorable opinion. None of the other candidates was anywhere near those numbers in Holloway’s poll, except Holloway himself, who scored a 60 percent name recognition.
Holloway was congressman for much of the area now in the 5th from 1987 to 1993, when redistricting eliminated his seat. He easily won four of the parishes in the PSC district that overlaps with the 5th Congressional District and lost in the fifth parish by only 61 votes.
After Thursday’s forum in Jackson, Holloway said he knew that in a short race with a lot of candidates, his name recognition would throw a wrench into the Riser coronation plan.
Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said Thursday that, based on past special congressional elections, he doesn’t expect more than 25 percent of the district’s 481,294 registered voters to case ballots. That means the 14 candidates will split up the vote of about 120,000 ballots.
“The key is going to be who gets their supporters to the polls,” said Joshua Stockley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Most of the recent polling indicates that no one candidate is going to win outright on Oct. 19 and that none of the Democratic candidates has gained much traction, he said.
Stockley said he discounted Holloway last month, as did many candidates and political professionals.
“I viewed him as too much of a has-been,” Stockley said. “I overlooked his base and I don’t think the candidates that entered the race really saw it either.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org