There are a few signs here and there promoting the candidates for Louisiana secretary of state, but not nearly enough to signal to voters that a statewide election is scheduled for Nov. 6. Labor Day has come and gone, too, and there’s not much to offer in terms of a media analysis.
It’s a quiet election during the first week of October, which could only mean one thing—the race may very well come down to the television commercials aired during the primary’s final weeks.
“It’s basically a 90-day race,” said Lionel Rainey III, who is managing Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s campaign. “You can spend that money on the front end on collateral, or save that money and be able to go on TV.”
In a nutshell, that’s the direction of the Ardoin campaign, which has been growing its fundraising base while shooting spots that are said to be slated for later this month, if not sooner. When asked which markets Ardoin would be targeting, Rainey laughed and said, “Louisiana.”
Internal and external polls, for whatever they’re worth in this kind of environment, do show some trends, including a mild incumbent’s edge for Ardoin and a strong position for Renee Fontenot-Free, the more established of the race’s two Democrats. Within arm’s reach are Rep. Julie Stokes and Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud, with Rep. Rick Edmonds and former Sen. A.G. Crowe joining the GOP shortlist.
While it’s a little early to declare a frontrunner, Ardoin certainly received the full treatment last week, drawing fire from all corners over a letter his office sent to elderly and disabled voters regarding the absentee ballot program. While Ardoin maintains that it was part of his official duties, his opponents chalked it up to a political ploy.
With a field-leading war chest of nearly $450,000, Stokes has to be taken seriously as well—especially if she spends all the personal money that has been loaned to her campaign. According to consultant Jason Hebert of The Political Firm, the spending has already started and Stokes will be on television with her messaging some time over the next several days.
As the only contender from Acadiana, Cloud is in a unique position to galvanize regional support for a possible runoff spot. But with the clock ticking, it’s going to have to be an aggressive grab. The Turkey Creek mayor has her own sizable war chest, with nearly $100,000 in the bank. Chris Comeaux, Cloud’s consultant, said her ads will also be on the airwaves soon, although a final decision has yet to be made on which markets will be targeted.
Speaking of TV buys, Edmonds has added Baton Rouge media consultant Roy Fletcher to his campaign staff, meaning video images are on the way. While the details of Edmonds’ media buys are still being finalized, supporters expect to see some of the representatives’ fellow legislators in his spots.
Aside from reaching out to his pastoral colleagues to leverage the church-going vote, Edmonds has been working the endorsement circuit hard, winning the support of the Orleans Parish RPEC and the GNOR PAC. “It’s pretty rare for a Baton Rouge candidate to win a New Orleans endorsement,” noted J. Hudson, Edmonds’ campaign manager.
Edmonds and Crowe have sizable coffers, but they also have the unfortunate predicament of sharing the same conservative base, with most of the polls showing the two essentially splitting that bloc of support.
According to Crowe’s campaign, the former senator has received a piney woods bounce courtesy of endorsements from north Louisiana lawmakers, like Senate Ag Chair Francis Thompson. Boosters hope those nods translate into votes above Interstate 10, which they hope translates to votes from above I-10.
Crowe, for his part, has been out pressing the flesh, placing an emphasis on meeting with voters and addressing their concerns in small forums. Crowe has also been working the parish party executive committees, too, even beating out Stokes on her home turf and winning the endorsement of the Jefferson Parish RPEC.
Fontenot-Free, meanwhile, benefits from not having a crowded party field. If last year’s treasurer’s race is any indicator, Dem support alone could be enough to put her into a runoff, as it carried Derrick Edwards into a matchup with Treasurer John Schroeder. But that was a different field and, as political commentator Clancy DuBos is fond of saying, each election is a unique event.
With no tight congressional races on the ballot, Fontenot-Free needs to work the ground game hard and get Democratic voters to the polls. It’s likely that her limited budget will prevent a major media buy, but there’s still time for a Christmas morning miracle.
Free’s team said the candidate’s efforts to engage voters directly is taking priority over shooting ads. “She’s a barnstormer,” said T. Bradley Keith, Free’s campaign manager. “We’re doing events almost every day and she is pressing the flesh all over the state.”
All of the candidates, in fact, are traveling around Louisiana right now. And they’re coming to a town near you. In other words, it may seem quiet, but it won’t be that way much longer.
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. LaPolitics staff writer Mitch Rabalais contributed reporting for this column.