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LA Senate race reverts to form: advantage Kennedy

Maybe back to the future explains how the state of Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race seemingly has reverted to its position of over a month ago, as campaigns have adjusted to burgeoning interest in the contest to produce the same top two then as now.

Until the middle of September, polling had shown Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy leading the field with around a quarter of the vote, and then several points behind Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell. Then a couple of polls emerged that saw Kennedy falling back close to other main rivals Republican Reps. Charles Boustany and John Fleming, and Campbell retreat back to his main rival Democrat, former lieutenant governor candidate Caroline Fayard.

The theory went that Kennedy for Republicans and Campbell for Democrats served as placeholders for an electorate minimally engaged, with their familiarity translating to default answers in surveys for people in reality undecided. With the proportion of the undecided still remaining high, it could have been that as some respondents began paying attention they detached from the pair and declared themselves undecided, while others of the undecided broke disproportionately for the other candidates. At the time, Kennedy hardly had any advertisements out and Campbell found Fayard picking up key endorsements from the Landrieu clan. Thus, it could be that Kennedy could win back supporters once he made his campaign more visible and if Campbell could rally his more state-centered campaign to overcome the national party emphasis on Fayard he would regain his edge over her.

That process seems to have played out, with both campaigns executing successful game plans. According to the latest independent poll, Kennedy has gone back to almost a quarter of the electorate’s support while Campbell at just under a fifth of it has put distance between himself and Fayard, keeping himself ahead of Boustany and Fleming.

Kennedy’s reassertion does not bring much surprise. A longtime and popular fixture in state politics, better than both Boustany and Fleming he can capture conservative populists – and much better than the state’s original populist on the right, former state Rep. and Klan leader David Duke. With that base, Kennedy, a Democrat until 2007, needs just a smattering of principled conservative support and some conservative Democrat defectors not only to lead into the runoff, but to serve as the basis of a winning coalition in the runoff.

Campbell’s climb back appears more unexpected. While also long around state politics, his had more regional than statewide name recognition and appeal, and the imprimatur of the Landrieus for Fayard should have galvanized traditional Democrat apparatuses, particularly pertaining to black voters, for her. That she remains stuck around an eighth of voters’ choices poll after poll – especially if ending up in that territory on election day – shows one or both of a measurable decline in the influence of the Landrieus and/or in the power of groups and elites in state politics allied with national Democrat interests.

Certainly that exception applies to labor unions, both inside and outside of government, as well as the extremist wing of environmentalism (speaking to the latter, Fayard more sensibly expresses caution concerning the faith of anthropogenic climate change), who have not followed the national Democrats and have gone in Campbell’s direction. With the populist left resurging that enabled Campbell ally Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to take advantage of Republican infighting allowing Edwards to win the governorship last year, that should provide the numbers to hold off Fayard. Campbell has done well to utilize dwindling liberal populism, neutered elsewhere in the country, in Louisiana, demonstrating as did Edwards that its demise here has yet to come.

These developments leave Boustany and Fleming in increasingly desperate straits. With only a portion of the undecided vote of roughly an eighth of the electorate part of their possible constituencies and each of them sitting on about a tenth of that voting population, one essentially would have to sweep that category to muscle past Campbell. In practical terms, the present trend would keep both of the more principled conservative candidates out of the runoff.

These dynamics continue unabated, so something unexpected must happen within the next two weeks in order to prevent a Kennedy-Campbell runoff that will lead, on his third try, to Kennedy’s finally joining the country’s most august assembly.

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