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Riser appears set for long Fifth District stay

Louisiana and the Fifth District, welcome to your likely new U.S. House member for probably as long as he’ll want it, state Sen. Neil Riser.

As previously noted, the statement by Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander yesterday that he would not run for reelection vaulted the likes of Republicans Riser, fellow state Sen. Mike Walsworth, and state Rep. Jim Fannin into contention for taking over from him. It also presented a bit of a quandary for Gov. Bobby Jindal, for whom Fannin had been a loyal soldier in assisting Jindal budgets into being as the chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee and that Walsworth has been probably his closest legislative ally, in terms of whether he should or could support either of them for this promotion.

Instead, discretion may have been the better part of valor for Jindal by setting up a situation where didn’t have to make or to pass on a commitment at all. By naming Alexander to the vacant state Department of Veterans’ Affairs secretary’s job with his leaving Congress within two months, it helped to set up a situation where he did not have to turn off potential supporters for a future office from the state by having to back either because Riser, who has been one of Jindal’s biggest legislative allies, has clear advantages over the other two with a contest looming in less than two months, with qualifying occurring in just about two weeks.

With this earlier date, self-financing of a candidacy was important and Riser has the means to do it. At the end of 2012 he had $93,000 on hand, which is not absurdly impressive but more than a lot of legislators and could be used in a federal campaign (the reverse is not true). He also had a political action committee at his disposal with around $5,000 in it. Note that this does not include any funds raised in 2013. Also, in 2011 he made at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars (he got an extension to report his 2012 figures, not yet turned in) and showed ownership in several enterprises, so he would be in a good position for a lightning-like sprint to office.

Riser also has demonstrated he can run a good campaign. To get into the state Senate in 2007 as a rookie candidate, he put down a veteran Democrat, Bryant Hammett, who had been chairman of the state House Ways and Means Committee (having left House service to become Secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries). He also has the best experience to win this district in that his currently is the largest district in the state, covering much of the area in the Fifth.

And, he has been a favorite of conservatives, verified by his average over six years on the Louisiana Legislative Log’s voting scorecard (where 100 means a perfectly consistent voting record with conservative and reform preferences) of just under 80, well above party and chamber norms. This past session, by far he scored the highest in the state Senate at 90.

Indications are that Fannin and Walsworth will not contest, and that Alexander tacitly, by his confirming his upcoming post, and neighboring Rep. John Fleming explicitly are supporting Riser’s bid. While term-limited Fannin may be interested in term-limited state Sen. Bob Kostelka’s job, Walsworth may be content with one more term in his current spot and has announced also his backing of Riser.

If Riser pulls it off, he becomes the prohibitive favorite in the regular election next year. None of the few Republicans to win such special elections in the state’s post-Reconstruction history ever has lost attempted reelection. Neither demographics nor their bench suggest Democrats can come up with anything but an unlikely winner in opposition.

It also would create another shortened race to the regular election, but not too short, that directly favors the incumbent. The 2008 contests that featured former Democrat Rep. Don Cazayoux, now a U.S. district attorney, are instructive. The special election he won narrowly was just six months prior to the regular election, giving him no real incumbency advantage, where strong Republican opponents ran both times, with one weakening him on the first giving him little chance to replenish resources and the second, stronger than the first and who strategically sat out the special election for this very reason, got him in the second – helped by the district having a Republican lean. In contrast, with a year to raise and no viable Democrat opposition to stretch him in the special election, a victorious Republican in this has a clear path in 2014. And at this point, he seems to have no serious GOP opposition for that.

That gift will keep on giving: in Louisiana it has been over six decades since a sitting House member elected during a regular election has lost reelection subsequently in the same district. The personalistic political culture of the state facilitates longevity of a guy who can muscle his way in. If that transpires, for the citizenry an exit of Alexander that paves the way for Riser would be a good deal.

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