Candidates make final push

From presidential to congressional to Metro Council seats, candidates for various offices spent Saturday campaigning in a mad dash for victory in the final days before Tuesday’s elections.

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden and his top challenger, Republican Metro Councilman Mike Walker, were among those taking advantage of campaigning on Saturday amidst the massive LSU-Alabama tailgating scene, as did U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.

“This is a nice pre-election climate,” Cassidy said of the LSU tailgating scene. “We’ve been working a grass-roots campaign the past three months. This is one last great crowd. It’s mixing business and pleasure.”

In Cassidy’s 6th Congressional district, he is challenged by two little-funded Baton Rouge residents in Libertarian Rufus Craig and No Party candidate Richard “RPT” Torregano.

But other races Tuesday are expected to be much closer led, of course, by the federal fight between President Barack Obama and GOP nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Likewise, the tight push is why mayoral candidates like Holden and Walker were both out at LSU and other locations on Saturday. No party candidates Steve Myers and Gordon Mese also are in the race.

Holden participated in events at the Red Stick Farmers Market, visited with other constituents and made it to LSU for tailgating.

“I did my shopping,” Holden said of the farmers market. And he also, of course, said he did plenty of handshaking and campaigning to convince constituents he deserves a third term under the argument that Baton Rouge is on the right path.

Southern University political scientist Albert Samuels said he expects Holden to win re-election again without a runoff.

Samuels warned that Holden could become much more vulnerable if Walker forces a runoff because Holden’s base of Obama supporters will have less motivation to show up at the polls.

“He’s in real trouble,” Samuels said of Holden in a runoff.

The toughest congressional race in the state pits incumbent U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, against each other to represent southwestern Louisiana in the 3rd Congressional District because of redistricting. Louisiana is losing a congressional seat because of a lack of population growth. The other contenders are Democrat Ron Richard, Republican Bryan Barrilleaux and Libertarian Jim Stark.

Pearson Cross, who heads the University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science department, said the most likely scenario is that Boustany and Landry will continue their nasty race for another month in a runoff.

While that is the “most likely scenario,” Cross said, there is a chance Boustany could barely win out with more than 50 percent of the votes and there also is the possibility that Democrats will stick with Richard and push him into a runoff with Boustany.

“But anything below 40 percent (of the vote) is very problematic for Boustany,” Cross said.

The other factor is how much support will Boustany win from Democrats. Boustany has said along he is courting Republicans, independents and “conservative Democrats.”

But, again, the minority vote in the district could decide things, Samuels said.

Boustany is reaching out to some black ministers in the district for the first time in a few years, Samuels said, indirectly quoting them, “‘I haven’t heard from my congressman in five years and now he needs some support.’”

For instance, the Lafayette-based United Ballot political action committee that sends push cards in minority neighborhoods is endorsing both Obama and Boustany for re-election. United Ballot officials did not respond to phone messages.

Landry, a freshman congressman, is predicting a runoff and he said the choice is “pretty easy” if people do not think they are better off after eight years of Boustany in Congress.

Landry said he is pushing that message through Tuesday and beyond. “Do some door knocking and sign waving. Calls, calls, calls — pushing all the way through Tuesday.”

Boustany, for instance, trekked to the Giant Omelette Celebration on Saturday in Abbeville and continued on the campaign trail.

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said he expected a strong 70 percent voter turnout on Tuesday, which would be up from 67.2 percent four years ago.

While Schedler said he would like to take some credit for improved voter outreach efforts, he said the strong growth in early voting and the “intensity” of the presidential race is the driving factors.

“I just think the intensity of the voters is stronger than ever,” Schedler said about the nation divided between Obama and Romney. “It’s like a cat on a hot tin roof.”

Early voting was 21 percent higher than four years ago with more than 340,000 people having already cast their ballots, he said.

Runoff elections Dec. 8 will show a “huge drop off” in voter turnout without a presidential election, Schedler said, but voter participation could still be strong.

In other congressional races, the New Orleans-based 2nd Congressional District now stretches into much of northern Baton Rouge and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, is facing off against four opponents with little financial backing in Dwayne Bailey, a Republican from Donaldsonville; Gary Landrieu, a Democrat and cousin of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu; Caleb Trotter, a Libertarian political newcomer; and Josue Larose, a Republican who lists a New Orleans address but mailed in his qualifying papers from Florida and has not responded to numerous phone messages.

Likewise, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, also is challenged by a bevy of little-financed candidates in the 1st Congressional District. He faces two people he has soundly beaten in the past: Democrat M.V. “Vinny” Mendoza and No Party candidate Arden Wells, both of Ponchatoula. Also challenging Scalise are two political newcomers in Republican Gary King, of New Orleans, and Galliano resident David “Turk” Turknett, who is not affiliated with any political party.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, is opposed in the 5th Congressional District by Libertarian Clay Grant, of Boyce, and Ron Ceaser, a No Party candidate from Opelousas.

In the Baton Rouge-based District 5 seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court, there is a huge pool of eight contenders.

Four of the candidates, judges on the First Circuit Court of Appeal, are Democrat John Michael Guidry and Republicans Toni Higginbotham, Jeff Hughes and Jewel “Duke” Welch. Two others are judges on the Baton Rouge-based 19th Judicial District Court — Republicans William Morvant and Tim Kelley.

Also, there is prominent Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who is running as a Democrat, and Jeffry Sanford, a lawyer running as a No Party candidate.

Five candidates are vying to replace outgoing state Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge. Republicans Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge and a former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, state Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, have raised the money.

Other candidates in the running are Baton Rouge Republican Sarah Holliday, New Orleans Democrat Forest Wright and Thibodaux resident Greg Gaubert, who does not have any party affiliation.

Several Metro Council races are up for grabs in East Baton Rouge Parish.

East Baton Rouge Parish and nearly every other school district in the state will vote on term limits for school board members. District-by-district, voters will decide whether to enact limits of three terms of four years each. Lafayette Parish and Jefferson Parish are the only districts that already have term limits.