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LA Senate field set; Kennedy remains favorite

With a slight wildcard tossed in, Louisiana’s 2016 Senate race qualification closed with little change in its dynamics that continue to make Republican Treasurer John Kennedy a clear favorite, as reflected in the most recent (becoming stale) independent poll of the contest.

A record two dozen candidates put themselves out there (creating potential headaches for debate planners), with the five major candidates taking the plunge; besides Kennedy, the GOP put on offer Reps. Charles Boustany and John Fleming, while Democrats Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and trial lawyer Caroline Fayard signed up. With them several relevant candidates – those who will not run competitively but whose presence will affect the electoral performances of the major candidates that will be competitive – also went for it: Republican former Senate candidate Rob Maness, Republican businessman Abhay Patel, Democrat businessman Josh Pellerin, no-party former state legislator Troy Hebert, and former state Rep. Prisoner #28213-034, out of the slammer called David Duke.

Both Patel and Pellerin have deep pockets to self-finance campaigns if called upon, but will score little because the electoral spaces they seek to occupy have quality candidates already in place. If Patel wants to run as an outsider businessman, Fleming already can claim that and obtaining actual results as an “outsider” to the Washington political establishment by his votes cast and minor role in changing the House’s leadership. Pellerin, who presents himself as liberal version of Patel, will find it tough sledding to peel votes from the populist liberal Campbell and liberal non-officeholder Fayard, both whom also can self-finance.

But Patel also will grab some votes from Fleming as well as from Maness, who similarly against the “establishment” but has the same problem as Patel with Fleming’s credentials on that and that he and Patel only can promise while Fleming has delivered for conservatives. Pellerin will score a few votes from Campbell and Fayard but also from Kennedy, who sounds some populist themes and once ran for the same seat as a Democrat.

Kennedy and Maness additionally will face some vote leakage from Hebert, who is trying to attach himself to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump (and, like Trump, has run into some legal difficulties) as an outsider fed up with traditional party politics. With Maness getting squeezed on ideology from Fleming and on outsider status from Fleming, Hebert, and Patel, and without great fund-raising ability, he will not come close to the 13 percent of the vote he captured in 2014.

And to make matters worse, the wild card horns in on his St. Tammany base, the discredited Duke who demonstrated delusional thinking when he considered Trump’s successful insurgency campaign a bellwether for his potential success. But it’s not the relatively restricted media environment of a quarter-century ago and full information about Duke is widely available. Simply, the contest has several genuine conservatives running and several insurgents, with some candidates matching both descriptions. All Duke has to distinguish himself from these others is his racism and felony conviction.

Still, he’ll slice a very few votes, of the less informed or racist whites, from the likes of Fleming, Hebert, Kennedy, and Maness and might end up in the top ten. He may not even do that well and fall behind Republican former Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, whose only distinguishing features compared to one or more of the major GOP choices is he is an Asian Catholic from New Orleans.

Regardless, Kennedy continues as a huge favorite to make the inevitable runoff. Whether Boustany or Fleming will join him depends upon how well Fleming can consolidate the conservative vote and whether Campbell of Fayard can corral enough of the liberal vote. Only if Fleming can do very well on the right and Campbell or Fayard the same on the left could Kennedy lose out. If the conservative and liberal vote fragments too much, Boustany can get in but would face an uphill battle against Kennedy. Campbell or Fayard will make the runoff if the liberal vote swings decisively to one of them, but the survivor almost certainly loses to Kennedy. Fleming has the best shot against Kennedy in a runoff, but he still would be an underdog.

Of course, the man they hope to replace, GOP Sen. David Vitter, also seemed likely to cruise to a win in last year’s governor’s contest only to lose improbably. Despite Kennedy’s getting a field to his liking, especially with so many candidates to choose from, anything still could happen.

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