Political Horizons: Race shaping up to be ‘classic scrum’

The eight Republican contenders were full of “together we are an ocean” sentiments at a forum for the GOP 6th Congressional District candidates last week.

They promised not to throw mud at one another in the run-up to the Nov. 4 election to replace U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.

But an informal survey also found agreement among political consultants hired by the candidates — only they were saying all this spiritual unity stuff has a short shelf life. In fact, the numbers suggest that the 6th District Republican candidates will “go all Mississippi on each other” fairly soon.

The operatives referred to the June 24 election to choose the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in neighboring Mississippi that included attacks on the children of the candidates, a YouTube video of the incumbent’s infirm wife, a focus on getting black Democrats to cast ballots in the GOP primary, a suicide and allegations of widespread voter fraud. Challenger Chris McDaniel, a state senator, last week said he would legally challenge the 7,677-vote win by incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

The reason why this Louisiana congressional race is expected to get dicey is because only one Republican likely will make the Dec. 6 runoff — probably against former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, a Democrat — in a race for a seat that almost assuredly will go GOP.

Even though the 6th District’s 491,000 registered voters overwhelmingly support Republican candidates — Cassidy received 79 percent of the vote in 2012 — the supporters of the eight will be spread so thin that only a handful of ballots will separate the top vote-getters.

Nate Cohn, of The New York Times, wrote Thursday that Louisiana’s so-called jungle primary — everyone runs together on a single ballot and the top two vote-getters end up in a runoff if a candidate doesn’t receive more than 50 percent of the vote — works against Republicans. Polls have found that up to 20 percent of Louisiana voters remain undecided — higher than in other states — right up until election day.

“A closed party primary allows the Republicans to get more of a consensus candidate and more of a consensus position before going out to face the other parties in an open election,” said Pearson Cross, who studies Louisiana campaigns as head of the political science department for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Instead, the congressional candidates clumped into a jungle primary will try to differentiate themselves, using negative commercials and personal attacks in hopes of winning the few extra votes that will put them in the runoff, Cross said, voicing the opinions of the GOP consultants who did not want to be identified commenting about the Republican candidates and campaigns.

“It’s going to be real classic scrum,” Cross said.

“It’s hard enough on our families,” said GOP candidate Dan Claitor, a state senator from Baton Rouge. “Your family gets attacked. Your children get attacked. They say nasty things about your wife. They whisper things that are terrible about people. I won’t participate in that.”

Still, this a competitive venture, Claitor said. So, he will highlight differences between himself and other candidates. Sometimes that will appear like bare-knuckled fighting.

Garret Graves, the former Jindal aide who at the last reckoning had raised more money than any of the other candidates, says he respects other GOP candidates.

But, Graves added: “I’ve already heard and seen candidates come out and say things that are contrary to the constitution, rules of Congress and other things. Will I be pointing things out, in some cases? Yes, because it helps educate the electorate.”

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@theadvocate.com.