McAllister set for ‘David versus Goliath’ race
Monroe businessman Vance McAllister joined the 14-person field for the vacant 5th congressional district seat at the last minute, and few paid it much mind at first, except that he possessed the ability to largely self-finance his campaign.
But he then put together a campaign and media team with Washington, D.C.-area firms such as American Viewpoint, Smart Media Group and RedPrint Strategy.
McAllister, a 39-year-old married father of five, also had the quirky, but critically important, endorsement of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch and Duck Commander Phil Robertson to provide his campaign with a “shot in the arm,” as McAllister said.
He invested $355,000 of his personal finances into the race prior to the Oct. 17 open primary election to position himself as a “Christian conservative” and political outsider who had never run for office.
Then McAllister won a spot in the Nov. 16 general election runoff against state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia.
Most pundits, pollsters and strategists expected either former congressman and Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway or Democratic Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo to win the second runoff spot.
But McAllister secured it with nearly 18 percent of the vote — still a distant second behind Riser’s 32 percent.
Now, the question is whether McAllister can present Riser with a strong challenge in the runoff in what McAllister dubs a “David versus Goliath” matchup.
Riser launched his campaign well before anyone else, and he has by far the most campaign cash. He carries the financial support of the man he is seeking to replace, former U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, as well as assistance from U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; and John Fleming, R-Minden. He even has U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., helping him out.
Riser also has the backing of the Tea Party of Louisiana and the Washington-based, but tea party-affiliated, FreedomWorks organization.
So McAllister will continue to paint himself as the fresh-faced political outsider as opposed to Riser, whom McAllister says is party to the “good-ole-boy establishment.”
But, as University of Louisiana at Monroe political scientist Joshua Stockley says, McAllister is going to have to win over his share of moderate and independent voters in order to stand a fighting chance.
So Stockley believes McAllister also is trying to position himself as the more “pragmatic” choice.
McAllister is even trying to use Riser’s clever television advertising against him. In one ad, Riser quotes President Harry S. Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”
(Historical side note: There is no evidence Truman ever said the “dog” quote, but even President Bill Clinton has falsely attributed the quote to Truman.)
“I’m not looking to make friends in Washington,” Riser continues. “I want to turn that place around.”
McAllister said that kind of approach is causing all the obstructionism and government shutdowns in Congress. “I want to make a lot of relationships and reach across the aisle,” McAllister said.
For his part, though, Riser said his legislative record shows he can work with Democrats, although he said it is not easy. “I’ve proven with my record I can work with both parties,” Riser said.
Although Riser and McAllister are nearly identical on conservative political positions, Stockley said their approaches may separate them a bit.
“What do Louisiana voters want? Do they want an ideologue or do they want a pragmatist?” Stockley asked.
Other questions also remain. Will McAllister be able to financially keep pace with Riser, including dipping more into his personal funds? Will Democrats even bother to show up to the polls in an all-GOP runoff? Will conservatives be conflicted over their choices?
Regardless, the mathematical realities represent a challenge for McAllister. In the primary, Riser even won McAllister’s home base in Ouachita Parish.
But if we’ve learned anything, it’s at least this — never underestimate the popularity of “Duck Dynasty.”
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.