- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rob Maness, a tea party favorite and political newcomer, sees hope for his long-shot bid for Louisiana’s Senate seat in the election upset of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

He says the Virginia primary victory of little-known, little-funded economics professor David Brat over the No. 2 ranking official in the House GOP leadership shows that “message matters over dollars.”

But Louisiana’s election calendar works against Maness, with an open primary that pits all candidates against each other at the same time this fall, regardless of party.

Political watchers say Maness, a retired Air Force colonel, has little chance to overtake U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, the well-funded GOP establishment contender, as Republicans try to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Nov. 4 election.

Maness said Cantor’s loss shows that a grassroots candidate can be successful with a strong message and a robust ground game, and he suggests he meets those criteria.

“Money does matter, but I don’t think it matters as much as the establishment folks say it matters, and I think the Brat situation spells that out,” Maness said.

Baton Rouge-based pollster Bernie Pinsonat said Thursday that Maness isn’t comparing similar scenarios. Maness has to run statewide in an open field of candidates, rather than in Republican Party primary for a narrowly tailored congressional district.

Pinsonat said Louisiana’s open primary favors Cassidy among Republican candidates.

“To talk about Louisiana like it’s some congressional district where 85 percent of the people are white, middle-class voters is silly. We don’t even have a congressional district that looks like that district in Virginia,” Pinsonat said.

Poll numbers show Cassidy and Landrieu in a tight race and Maness and Republican state Rep. Paul Hollis far behind in the competition. Meanwhile, Cassidy had raised $6.4 million through the latest campaign finance period, according to the Federal Election Commission, compared to $760,000 raised by Maness.

But Maness notes that since the last fundraising reporting period, he’s picked up endorsements from the national political action committee Tea Party Express and from former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

After Cantor’s loss, Maness’ campaign sent out a statement comparing Cassidy to Cantor on immigration and budget issues, calling the congressmen “two peas in a pod” and suggesting both are Washington-based politicians who don’t listen to people back home.

Cassidy spokesman John Cummins wouldn’t answer questions about Cantor’s loss and Maness’ campaign directly. Instead, he issued a statement citing Cassidy’s recent endorsement from the state Republican Party and his poll numbers.

“Dr. Cassidy represents Louisiana values, opposing Obamacare, supporting our energy economy and holding President Obama accountable. While doing so, he has successfully addressed state issues such as Flood Insurance Reform and flood protection,” Cummins said.

Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said the broader election results across multiple state primaries should worry Maness, because establishment Republicans have defeated most challenges from tea party candidates.

“The national results we’ve seen so far should make Maness even more uncomfortable. And I would think that Bill Cassidy should feel better,” Stockley said. “Maness is still in, I think, a poor position.”

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