Vance McAllister took the oath of office Thursday, assuming the seat representing north Louisiana in Congress.
McAllister, a political newcomer, ran as a pragmatist and was not expected to win the 5th District seat.
State Sen. Neil Riser, a known quantity in Louisiana’s GOP, had launched his campaign almost as soon as Rep. Rodney Alexander stepped down to take a job in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s cabinet last summer.
And, as Associated Press capitol correspondent Melinda Deslatte discusses with WRKF’s Amy Jeffries, Riser had been the obvious front-runner.
MELINDA DESLATTE: It seemed to be conventional wisdom the entire time that this was Senator Riser’s race to lose. And he indeed lost it by 20 points to someone that we didn’t even know a few months ago.
But Vance McAllister had a couple things going for him: He is independently wealthy, so he could self-finance. Almost his entire campaign operation was funded by his own personal wealth. Beyond that, he happened to be friends with the Duck Dynasty guys and that family is very well known, they’re very popular in the district, so they gave him some name recognition and some credibility early on when he probably needed that bump just to get any attention paid to his campaign. Add on to that that he is a political outsider at a time when there was a federal government shutdown and at a time when people are very angry with Congress and the partisan gridlock there and he had a message that was pretty practical and did well in the district.
So all of those things together clearly worked to his benefit.
AMY JEFFRIES: So what is this political newcomer planning to do once he gets to Congress?
DESLATTE: He’s very much focused on the people of the district and their individual problems. And so where a lot of congressmen who are newly elected to office have these very grand visions of certain policies that they want to enact or bills that they’re going to immediately as a freshman congressman go introduce – and that have very little chance of getting a hearing, let alone going anywhere – when you talk to Vance McAllister the couple days after his election, what he said his first priority was when he got in office was to get his staff in place and then to start handling the file folders of constituent complaints and concerns and needs and requests that have been filed in the office for the past couple months when they haven’t had a Congressman. And that’s probably things like, “I haven’t gotten my social security check”, or “We didn’t get the veteran’s benefits that we’re supposed to be getting.” It’s those small concerns that he says are really big to his constituents and that they need to deal with those first before they start dealing with anything else.
JEFFRIES: So how many months does Vance McAllister have in Congress before he would be facing a reelection campaign?
DESLATTE: When he runs again – which presumably he will – qualifying will be in the fall and then election will be this same time next year. So he’s got essentially 12 months in office, but he’s got very little time to make much of a mark before he has to go to voters again and ask them to reelect him.
JEFFRIES: Do you think he will make a mark? Has he made a mark already in just coming out and being this pragmatist, focusing on more practical matters?
DESLATTE: He’s definitely made a splash and gotten a lot of attention. But it was a very low turnout election – less than 19 percent of voters actually showed up and it was a special election, so it’s not necessarily the same kind of turnout you’re going to get in a main election year when there’s going to be a senate race on the ballot in Louisiana and lots of other things going on. So it will be interesting to watch what happens over his 8 to 10 months in office to see if he’s registered enough with voters back home to maintain that seat or if he has a tough reelection campaign.
JEFFRIES: As you were saying, presumably Vance McAllister will be on the ballot next fall, and that ballot will include a senate race. And, currently, the main challenger to Sen. Mary Landrieu is our Congressman here in Baton Rouge, Bill Cassidy, who is also a GOP lawmaker in Congress right now. And I wonder if you may end up with a scenario where Vance McAllister’s style is compared to Bill Cassidy’s.
DESLATTE: Well, I think you could probably look at that a couple ways.
Vance McAllister probably isn’t out of line with the congressman that the 5th District just had – Rodney Alexander – who was known much more to be pretty practical, pretty moderate and who was known for working across party lines in the same ways that Vance McAllister has said that he is interested in doing. But I don’t know if people will use that in any way to judge how they feel about the senate candidates.
I think when people are voting for a senator they’re going to be looking at the performance of Mary Landrieu, and if there needs to be a change do they agree with Congressman Cassidy’s position on issues. So I don’t know that one will necessarily affect the other race.
JEFFRIES: With this senate race a year away now, do we declare this in full swing, this campaign?
DESLATTE: I think if you follow politics then you might want to say it’s in full swing. As far as what the campaigns are doing they’re definitely raising money, honing a message, and trying to keep out there. But as far as what the average voter is paying attention to, I suspect that the senate race is not necessarily the foremost thought in their heads at the moment. Probably Thanksgiving turkey is.