McAllister scandal opens 5th district race

Last week at this time, politicians and their consultants felt U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister would have an easy ride to reelection in November.

But that was before the Swartz Republican was caught on a security camera kissing one of his aides — a 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,” agreed G. Pearson Cross, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Democrats had been looking for a candidate, mainly to help energize more Democratic voters to go to the polls in the 5th Congressional District for Mary Landrieu, who is seeking her fourth term as U.S. Senator and needs a large turnout on Nov. 4. Now Democrats are looking to win a U.S. House of Representatives seat that had been considered a lock for the Republicans.

“A strong Democrat would have a real shot,” said Trey Ourso, a Baton Rouge consultant.

The mostly rural 5th District covers 24 parishes in northeast Louisiana, the central part of the state and the rural parts of the Florida parishes along the Mississippi state line, and favors Republicans. And that proved true as an unknown McAllister, a first-time candidate, emerged to find a place in the runoff last fall that attracted only 19 percent of the registered voters. He won the race against fellow Republican Neil Riser, a state senator from Columbia who had been endorsed by most major Republican players in Louisiana.

A bigger election — November features races for the U.S. Senate, judges and district attorneys — historically attracts about 54 percent of the voters to the polls. Larger turnout means more Democrats and McAllister’s problems created some opportunities, Ourso said.

Republicans are also eyeing McAllister. He apologized for his actions but has stayed out of sight as Gov. Bobby Jindal and Roger Villere, who chairs the Louisiana Republican Party, demand his resignation.

“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.”

During the 2013 campaign, McAllister 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, his professions of conservative Christian values could prove bigger trouble for McAllister than cheating on his wife a month after being elected. Conservative Christians can forgive a contrite politician. But if the churchgoers feel McAllister overexaggerated 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 out 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.”

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, a Republican whose abrupt retirement led to the special election last fall that elected McAllister, both have said they might.

Some old hands have said they’re not interested. But Holloway, who ran in the October 2013 special election, and former U.S. Rep. John Cooksey, of Monroe, acknowledged the 5th District voters may be more willing to back a known commodity this time around.

There are some well-known elected officials who are often named but keeping quiet for 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.

If McAllister resigns, the governor must name the election date in a proclamation. In practical terms, though, the Secretary of State’s Office would need 10 weeks to put an election together.

Jim Mustian of The New Orleans Advocate and Marsha Shuler of The Advocate Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.