WASHINGTON — Monroe businessman Vance McAllister invested $355,000 of his personal funds to surprise many and win a spot in the all-GOP congressional 5th District runoff against state Sen. Neil Riser.
After being “completely stunned” that McAllister secured a runoff spot, University of Louisiana at Monroe political scientist Joshua Stockley said McAllister may have to spend another $350,000 or so of his own money to stand a chance of beating Riser, R-Columbia, in the Nov. 16 runoff.
McAllister said Tuesday he agrees he likely needs to spend about another $400,000 to win and that he hopes to produce a lot more external fundraising the next couple weeks so he does not pull as much from the “future of my family.”
“But I’m going to do what it takes,” he said.
McAllister, 39, was “bolstered” with the support of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson and the spending of at least $125,000 for television ads with Smart Media Group, of Virginia. “I go to Phil quite a bit for spiritual guidance and to bounce ideas off him,” McAllister said.
Roy Fletcher, a veteran political consultant who handled media for state Rep. Jay Morris’ unsuccessful bid, says McAllister ran as a non-politician who spoke plainly and frequently referred to God in his television advertising and mail pieces.
“He says it different ways, very polite, very humble and never antagonistic,” Fletcher said about McAllister’s delivery of his political message.
“You get the sense that it’s genuine. He’s an authentic, and that’s the greatest compliment I can give a politician, ... or he’s the greatest actor you’ve ever seen.”
McAllister and Riser, 51, are vying to replace former U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, who stepped down last month and later took a cabinet position in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.
The question is who will campaign hardest for the 30 percent of voters who cast ballots for Democrats or for the 18 percent who voted for other Republicans such as Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway and state Rep. Morris, R-Monroe.
“Sen. Riser has a more simple task to maintain his lead and keep doing what he’s doing,” said Stockley, the ULM political scientist.
“McAllister is clearly the underdog. Does he have a chance? Certainly,” he continued. “But does he have a great chance. No, I wouldn’t say that. But nobody expected McAllister to be in a runoff … so I wouldn’t write him off.”
In fundraising prior to this past Saturday’s open primary election, Riser, a funeral home operator, led the way with about $620,000 raised without having to dip into personal finances yet.
Riser was endorsed by Alexander and most of the Republicans in the Louisiana congressional delegation.
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., also helped Riser raise money.
McAllister, on the other hand, took in nearly $400,000, but almost 90 percent of the money came from his personal funds, according to Federal Election Commission.
McAllister, who lives just outside of Monroe in Swartz, owns a bevy of businesses, including oil-and-gas exploration in Louisiana and Texas, a pipeline construction business with his father, real estate holdings, several Subway sandwich franchises, convenience stores, automotive battery and light store franchises, and a wrestling and mixed martial arts promotions company.
The pipeline business, Legacy Contractors, is his main revenue source, McAllister said, and the three-year-old Texas Coastal Energy is his “other breadwinner.”
The redrawn congressional 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 the Feliciana parishes.
On Saturday, Riser easily finished in first place with 32 percent of the vote, but the deep 14-person pool of candidates kept him far from winning outright. McAllister bested Democratic Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo for the second runoff spot with 17.8 percent of the votes cast, compared to 14.8 percent for Mayo.
Mayo only raised close to $30,000 for the campaign.
Holloway, a former congressman, finished fourth and he raised nearly $250,000, including more than $110,000 of his own funds.
Morris finished in sixth place after being the only person other than Riser to collect more than $600,000.
Morris, a successful lawyer, invested more than $330,000 of his own money.
One bit of scuttlebutt against McAllister bubbled up Tuesday in news accounts about one of his key campaign workers, who also had been chief of staff to former Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney.
The issue arose in 2010 from Toney writing Kim Leija a $30,000 check for her campaign salary, according to a Louisiana Board of Ethics complaint against Toney. Leija was allegedly instructed to keep $15,000 for her salary and give back the rest to Toney. Instead, she returned $10,000 “due to the taxes owed.”
Toney was then arrested for conspiracy, computer fraud, identity theft and obstruction after an employee and he allegedly tried to access Leija’s computer and email without her permission.
McAllister said that the incident was three years ago and that Toney, not Leija, was the guilty party. Leija is a “great person,” working as a volunteer on his campaign and instrumental in the landing the candidate in the runoff, he said.
“What does that have to do with Vance McAllister and Neil Riser running for Congress?” McAllister asked.