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The Slowest House Race of 2014
Posted at 5 a.m. on Feb. 21
In the last few weeks, congressional hopefuls have piled into newly open House seats across the country, climbing over each other for a head start and their best shot in decades to ascend to Capitol Hill.
Except for one: The Pelican State’s 6th District has experienced a remarkably slow start, even for Louisiana, and especially for safe GOP territory filled with ambitious local Republican politicians.
Almost a year after Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., announced he would forgo his seat to challenge Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., the GOP field for his House district remains in flux.
How slow is this GOP field to form? Slow enough to be overshadowed by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, an 86-year-old Democrat and convicted felon who told Bloomberg News this week he will run for seat. Edwards served eight years on federal corruption charges.
Edwards probably won’t be that competitive in this district, which voted for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney by a 34-point margin in 2012. However Edwards, who recently starred in a failed A&E reality television show, would usurp a chunk of attention in the race if he runs.
Still, Edwards is, by far, the most exciting event in this race so far. But that’s not saying much.
Louisiana Republican operatives attribute some of the lag in the GOP field to the state’s late, Aug. 22 filing deadline and jungle primary. In Louisiana, every candidate who qualifies for the ballot runs on Election Day in November. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the race proceeds to a December runoff.
But other operatives argue the lethargic pace of the race is a product of a growing distaste for Washington, D.C., among the Louisiana political class, many of whom would rather stay in the Pelican State than come to Congress.
“We’ve seen a lot of people who used to jump into these types of races just don’t do it anymore,” said longtime Louisiana GOP pollster Bernie Pinsonat.
Three fundraising quarters have passed since Cassidy’s April 3 Senate announcement, giving prospective candidates ample time to weigh bids and raise money to run.
Yet only one GOP candidate was actively fundraising and running for the seat last year: businessman Paul Dietzel.
A number of other Republicans announced bids after the start of this year, including state Sen. Dan Claitor, who entered the race in January, and businessman Craig McCulloch, who on Monday became the latest Republican to run.
Multiple GOP operatives add that Garret Graves, a former coastal adviser to GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, is also close to entering the contest.
Still, local Republicans chalk up candidate hesitation in the 6th District to a recent, nearby special-election upset.
GOP state Sen. Neil Riser, a popular and well-regarded state legislator, was the heir apparent in Louisiana’s 5th District. Last summer, GOP Rep. Rodney Alexander resigned from Congress for a job in the governor’s office.
But Riser lost in a runoff to now-Rep. Vance McAllister, a virtually unknown businessman whose outsider status and ties to the “Duck Dynasty” reality show franchise propelled him to a 20-point victory this fall.
“I think it’s fear,” said one local GOP operative with ties to a candidate in the race. “They hate to throw their name in and risk their own job. … They look what happened to Neil and say, ‘I don’t want that to be me.’”
As the field stands, GOP operatives say Claitor is the candidate to beat because he is an elected official from Baton Rogue, which is in the heart of the district.
The rest of the field is vying for the second spot in a runoff.
The slow-to-gel 6th District field stands in contrast to the increasing number of open contests across the country. A slew of House retirements in safe GOP and Democratic districts brought a barrage of congressional hopefuls. Candidates flooded those races, many waiting mere hours before announcing bids.
For example, in nearby Alabama, four strong GOP candidates announced bids shortly after 11-term Rep. Spencer Bachus, a Republican, called it quits in Septemeber. All of those candidates have now actively raised money for an entire full quarter for this safe GOP district. The winner will likely hold the seat for as long as desired.
In nearby Georgia, Republicans quickly flooded the open seats left vacant last spring by the trio of House Republicans who are running for Senate: longtime GOP Reps. Jack Kingston, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey. Romney carried all of those districts by double-digit margins.
Further north, nearly a dozen Democrats announced bids for the newly open 8th District — within weeks after longtime Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va. — announced his retirement last month. In 2012, President Barack Obama won that Northern Virginia district by a 37-point margin, making it the second-strongest Democratic seat in the state.