Stephanie Grace: McAllister race much different this time around

BY STEPHANIE GRACE

sgrace@theadvocate.com

Now that he’s decided to seek re-election after all, I’m guessing that 2014 Vance McAllister is looking back at 2013 Vance McAllister with envy.

The self-made Republican businessman from Swartz may have been a political nobody a year ago, but he had the all the options in the world open to him as he embarked on an improbable quest to win Louisiana’s suddenly open 5th Congressional District seat. As a blank slate, at least as far as the voters were concerned, McAllister got to forge his own path.

Sure, he got lucky. Democrats fielded enough candidates to cancel one another out in the crowded open primary, leaving McAllister in a position to pick up their votes in a head-to-head runoff against fellow Republican Neil Riser. Riser, meanwhile, was far less charismatic than his easygoing opponent and never overcame a widespread sense that the powers that be had manipulated the special election calendar to give him an inside track.

But the real secret to McAllister’s stunning success less than a year ago was that he carved out a winning identity as a family-focused, Christian, “Duck Dynasty”-loving straight talker, as an outsider who’d never even visited Washington, who would work across the aisle for the district and wouldn’t get caught up in Washington’s never-ending partisan warfare.

That was then. Now, as McAllister prepares to seek both re-election and redemption after getting caught on his office’s own security camera kissing his own aide who was married to his own friend, the possibilities are way more limited.

Although his wife issued the requisite statement of support as their kids, who’d starred in his commercials last year, stood fidgeting on the side in solidarity, family and Christian values obviously are off the table.

McAllister once owned the “Duck Dynasty” niche, but these days, the reality TV stars are playing the GOP field. In the months since they helped send their friend to Washington by vouching for his authenticity, they’ve hosted Gov. Bobby Jindal at their complex and on their show (Jindal, cozying up just as much as they are, has a group photo of the Robertsons and Jindals on his Twitter home page).

Meanwhile, Patriarch Phil Robertson’s controversial comments on sexual orientation and race have made him such a GOP darling that Sarah Palin recently introduced him to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans by quipping that “maybe he should be not just the Duck Commander. How about a Duck Commander in Chief?” Plus, they’ve got their own guy in the upcoming race, a nephew named Zach Dasher, whose latest campaign form is brimming with donations from the famous clan.

McAllister may still be able to appeal to Democrats, although, at this point, it looks like just one major candidate from the party, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, will run, making the prospect of another all-GOP runoff less likely. The GOP field isn’t fully formed, but Riser has said he won’t try again, so McAllister won’t be able to allege any sort of fix this time around.

And he can once again self-finance. He’ll probably have to; McAllister’s latest disclosure form shows a paltry take. In fact, the most eye-catching entries are the past contributions he’s reimbursed to Melissa and Heath Peacock, the former aide involved in the smooching scandal and her husband.

But one of his go-to lines since being elected definitely won’t sell. In his first months in office, McAllister would often claim that the job “sucks,” suggesting that he’s willing to put up with D.C.’s dysfunction only because he cares so much about his constituents.

Chances are he won’t have much success playing the anti-politician on the campaign trail this fall. Not when he had the chance to walk away and let someone else do it. Not when he could have saved himself and his family any further embarrassment.

Nobody’s going to believe that he’s simply willing to take one for the district this time around. He clearly wants the job too badly.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.