While a Southern Media Opinion and Research poll in late May used a sample on the small side, Republican Kennedy’s lead over his opponents made the larger margin of error resulting from that essentially irrelevant; with 32 percent of the intended vote, he led the next highest receiver Republican Rep. Charles Boustany by 22 points, followed by Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell at 9 percent, Republican Rep. John Fleming with 5 percent, Republican former Senate candidate retiree Rob Maness at 4 percent, Democrat former lieutenant governor candidate trial lawyer Caroline Fayard with 4 percent, no party former legislator Troy Hebert at 2 percent, and Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta (who technically has not announced running but did form an exploratory committee) with 1 percent. 32 percent of voters voiced no opinion, and apparently declared candidate and former Republican Rep. Joseph Cao did not figure in the questions.
That undecided total disproportionately seemed a function of more liberal voters dithering over Campbell and Fayard. 42 percent of Democrats expressed indecisions, as did 52 percent of blacks. By contrast, GOP identifiers and whites had undecided rates at half these.
Add it all up, and Kennedy sits really prettily. As his name recognition is positive by 37 points with only 13 percent failing to identify him, this indicates fairly solid support. His main Republican rivals each are about a dozen points positive in support but about half unrecognized for each. This means they do have room to grow, and some voters will see Kennedy favorably now but later with learning about the others may seem one or more of them positively as well and more than with Kennedy, eroding his current support at the polls. Yet with such a large lead, Kennedy can afford to have several points shaved and comfortably make an inevitable runoff, especially as whatever support drifts away from him likely will splinter.
Other GOP contenders also may pause at the Democrats’ numbers. With their support from the left unconsolidated, this still could swing decisively towards one of the two, putting that candidate into the runoff. However, that the scenario also exists where the relatively large undecided bloc could continue to split and in fairly balanced fashion does give Republican contestants hope that one can consolidate the conservative vote that Kennedy does not have to make the runoff with him.
But it’s almost game over if Kennedy makes the runoff. While some analysts may try to peg him in a “moderate Republican lane” with Boustany (and Cao), while putting Fleming and Maness (and Skrmetta) in the “conservative Republican” and Campbell and Fayard in the “Democrat” lanes, Kennedy really has crossover appeal by his populist tendencies that would eat into the support of Maness and Campbell and perceived outsider (despite three decades of service in state government) conservative credentials that also draw from Maness and Fleming. This makes him difficult both to run down to deny a runoff spot or to defeat in the general election runoff itself.
In fact, given these numbers, potentially the only candidate that can defeat Kennedy in a runoff is Fleming. Either Democrat has no chance as he will draw some of the electorate minority from either of them to add to the majority center-right base that overwhelmingly would support him.
That leaves Fleming and Maness, but the latter would fail because he has only talked conservatism and anti-establishmentarianism, while the former has both talked and lived these in his service in Congress that will prove more convincing to voters Thus, in a Kennedy-Fleming runoff, Fleming can cancel Kennedy’s outsider advantage, present his congressional record in a positive fashion, and his unquestioned conservative credentials can corral most voters on the right. Even so, that still may not give him the win, as Kennedy would not have to pick up many conservative votes to go over the top.
However, Fleming’s showing in the poll demonstrates he has some work to do among Republicans to muscle his way closer to Kennedy – and that still might fall short if a Democrat does a decent job of vacuuming up leftist voter support that at this point continues up for grabs. As a result, if Kennedy makes the runoff, he’s no worse than a coin flip from winning, and more likely a big favorite.
And at this point, the numbers show him a solid favorite to make the runoff. Some dynamics in this contest must change significantly in the coming months to deny Kennedy victory, and the other candidates will have to scramble to arrange for that to prevent this outcome.