Last week at this time, politicians and their consultants felt U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister would have an easy ride to re-election in November.
But that was before the Swartz Republican was caught by a security camera kissing his friend’s wife in a darkened office.
“He’s a dead duck,” said Clyde Holloway, who serves on the Louisiana Public Service Commission and has been involved in Republican Party politics in the central and northeastern part of the state since serving as a congressman in the late 1980s and 1990s.
“McAllister is not looking nearly as strong as he was before this came out,” said G. Pearson Cross, who teaches political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Last week, the Democrats were trying to find a candidate for the race to help energize Democratic voters in the 5th Congressional District for Mary Landrieu, who is seeking her fourth term as U.S. senator and needs a large turnout Nov. 4.
Suddenly, the U.S. House of Representatives seat is in play and Democrats have a chance for what had been considered a lock for Republicans.
“Now the talk is about the Republicans thinking, ‘You know, I think I can take this guy,’ ” said Roy Fletcher, the Baton Rouge political consultant who helped raise Mike Foster from a little-known state senator to a two-term governor.
“If Vance is vulnerable, and people think he is, there will be several Republicans running,” Fletcher said. “It will be a free-for-all like it was last time, maybe not 13-14 candidates, but there could be seven or eight.”
Joshua Stockley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said: “If there was an individual who was thinking about running for Congress against McAllister, this is the time to do it. He’s new on the job; he’s had very little so far to claim in far as credit. He hasn’t been able to establish a base. He doesn’t have a loyal core support network.”
Several candidates are flirting with a run: State Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, who ran in the special election; and former U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, whose abrupt retirement led to the special election last fall that elected McAllister.
Some old hands have said they’re not interested, even as they acknowledged that this time around, the 5th Congressional District voters may be more interested in a known politician, rather than the outsider they elected in November. They include Holloway and former U.S. Rep. John Cooksey, who Alexander replaced in 2003.
There are some well-known elected officials who are keeping quiet at the moment, including Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy.
Only one candidate has announced, Ed Tarpley, who was district attorney in Grant Parish in the 1990s.
McAllister, who made millions in oilfield pipeline technology, hired a professional political team from Washington, D.C., to run his campaign. He exploited anger at what was perceived to be Gov. Bobby Jindal stacking the deck for one of his closest allies in the state Senate, Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who runs the Senate committee that decides which construction projects get funded.
He asked voters for their prayers, rather than their votes, said he would take conservative values to Washington and had the support of the stars of “Duck Dynasty,” a popular reality television show.
In the Bible Belt, this could prove bigger trouble for McAllister than cheating on his wife. Conservative Christians can forgive a contrite politician. But if the churchgoers feel McAllister over exaggerated or misrepresented his commitment to Christianity, then he is in real trouble.
“We’re a forgiving people,” Holloway said. “But the hypocrisy of the whole deal is what’s hard to get about of my craw."
Leedell Heckard is a Monroe voter who supported McAllister and now wishes he hadn’t.
“He gave a different impression” during the campaign, Heckard said. “He was like he was for real, a family man, hard working, and then this pops up. I think he really let us down.”
Trey Ourso, a Baton Rouge consultant who handles mostly Democrats, said that his analysis of the district last year was that it would be difficult for a Democrat to win because of the historical voting patters in special elections.
“Now, a strong Democrat would have a real shot,” Ourso said. “Mr. McAllister created some problems for himself that presents real opportunities.”
Also big elections — this one will include a U.S. Senate race along with judges and district attorneys — bring out more voters, which helps Democrats.
Stephen Handwerk, executive director of Louisiana Democratic Party, refused to go into details but said party officials are in conversations with potential candidates, but they were doing that before news of the scandal broke.
The 5th District is the state’s poorest, most rural and by far the largest geographically, stretching into 24 parishes from Monroe down to Alexandria and into the Florida parishes, which include the north Baton Rouge suburban and bedroom communities in East Feliciana.
The district includes the parishes of Avoyelles, Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Grant, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Rapides, Richland, Tensas, Washington, West Carroll, West Feliciana and Winn, as well as parts of East Feliciana, St. Helena, St. Landry and Tangipahoa.
Jim Mustian of The New Orleans Advocate and Marsha Shuler of The Advocate Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.