Congressional cycle showing signs of life
This fall’s congressional elections may not present Louisiana with many opportunities for change, but the buildup to qualifying has been entertaining nonetheless.
From celebrity appearances to national media attention, the developing election cycle has certainly been anything but boring. Candidates will begin signing up for these races, as well as others on the local level, in roughly two weeks, on Wednesday, July 18.
The political action, however, has been raging for weeks and months.
Already we know there’s a certified political rockstar running for re-election out of Jefferson Parish. Congressman Steve Scalise (1st Congressional District) has drawn at least four challengers: Democrats Tammy Savoie, Jim Francis and Lee Ann Dugas as well as Libertarian Howard Kearney.
The majority whip has a big target on his back, but his heroic recovery from an assassination attempt—on top of a very visible relationship with the Trump White House—are huge pluses in a district that has not elected a Democrat since 1976.
More to the point, Scalise has won re-election five times with an average of 73% of the vote, and his $1.5 million war chest suggests another victory is around the corner.
Over in the Cajun Heartland, politicos from southwest Louisiana have been enjoying an unusually robust fundraising year that has so far included drop-ins by well-known celebrities. It’s worth noting that those celebrity appearances have benefited both Congressman Clay Higgins (3rd District) and his opposition.
Fellow Republican Josh Guillory is an announced candidate who recently had a fundraiser headlined by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. That news was slightly overshadowed recently by President Donald Trump’s endorsement for Higgins, who conducted his own fundraiser this summer with reality TV star Duane “Dog” Chapman of Dog the Bounty Hunter fame.
Democratic challengers include former U.S. Magistrate Judge Mimi Methvin, Dr. Phillip Conner, Verone Thomas and Larry Rader. The latter is a New Iberia businessman who ran against Higgins in 2016. Two independents, Robert Anderson and Dave Langlinais, have also declared their candidacies.
According to campaign finance reports, Higgins has nearly $210,000 in the bank while most other candidates each have under $15,000. Guillory, though, has nearly $90,000 in the bank.
The congressman from northeast Louisiana, meanwhile, is running for re-election—and he may run for governor next year too. For now, though, Congressman Ralph Abraham (5th District) is focused on returning to his regular Beltway beat.
While no candidates have officially emerged to challenge Abraham, Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk said that the party is “in talks with several candidates” and “absolutely” plans on having a contender by the fall.
Abraham is sitting on a nearly $350,000 in his campaign account. A contested race would allow the congressman, who has all but formally announced his candidacy for governor in 2019, to run a traditional media campaign statewide, rather than just in his congressional district.
Then there’s the incumbent from Baton Rouge, who has enough campaign cash in the bank to do whatever he wants. But Congressman Garret Graves (6th District) seems most comfortable, in terms of the immediate future, flexing his policy muscles in the lower chamber.
Still, Graves has drawn multiple challengers in his bid for a third term. Another Republican, former Navy Association National President Bob Bell, has announced his candidacy—for the third time. Two Democrats, Justin DeWitt and Andie Saizan, have formally entered the race, and several others are said to be looking at the contest. Devin Lance Graham, an Independent, may be on the ballot as well.
Money does all the talking in this district, as it does in most others. Graves has nearly $1.6 million in the bank. DeWitt, the only other candidate to conduct any fundraising, has spent the majority of his money already and only has about $20 on hand.
The district, which is centered around Baton Rouge and touches a couple coastal parishes, has been solidly Republican for a decade.
There’s also a freshman from the Shreveport region who could ride his “civility pledge” into a second term. A constitutional scholar who got his political start in Legislature, Congressman Mike Johnson (4th District) may only face a single challenger in his first bid for re-election.
Ryan Trundle, a Democrat who supports Obamacare and legalizing marijuana, is the lone candidate standing so far. Johnson, in comparison, is a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and he has a campaign kitty of nearly $500,000.
Finally, New Orleans’ representative on the Hill will make his first appearance on a ballot this fall as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. It’ll be interesting to see if any substantive opposition surfaces for Congressman Cedric Richmond (2nd Congressional District). He responded to a challenge by former Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden last cycle by nabbing 70% of the vote in the primary.
Since initially winning the seat in 2010, Richmond has won re-election four times with an average of 65% of the vote. Mix in his nearly $600,000 in the bank, and Richmond looks like a tough incumbent to unseat.
If the celebrity appearances, mounting war chests and evolving storylines aren’t enough to suck you into the action of the congressional cycle, then just stick around a bit. Because the campaigns have yet to begin their efforts in earnest. (You’ll know it when they do.)
Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.