- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - With Republican David Vitter exiting the U.S. Senate, contenders to fill the vacancy crammed into the first day of the signup period for the Nov. 8 election.

Fifteen candidates registered for the race Wednesday and more are expected over the next two days.

Among the GOP candidates who qualified were U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, former U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao, U.S. Rep. John Fleming, state Treasurer John Kennedy and New Orleans economic development official Abhay Patel. Democrats include New Orleans lawyer Caroline Fayard and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell. Former Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert registered for the race as an independent.

Many of the competitors framed themselves as outsiders - even long-time elected officials - seeking to tap into a nation’s distrust of the political establishment. Several Republicans talked of themselves in the mold of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Fleming, a tea party favorite who has represented northwest Louisiana since 2009, described himself as having “battled against” leaders in the Republican Party. He championed Trump as bold and willing to make changes.

“I have that track record, too,” Fleming said.

Kennedy, a statewide elected official for 16 years, said he’s not part of the political “club” and talked of an American in which people “feel stuck. They feel betrayed. They feel like Washington doesn’t listen and doesn’t care.”

Hebert, a former state senator with no party affiliation, said he would be the only “truly independent candidate” because he refused to take campaign contributions. He’s self-financing his Senate bid.

“I’ll use the Donald Trump model. It seemed to work pretty well for him, although I’m not at the level he is,” Hebert said.

Boustany, in his sixth term in office representing southwest Louisiana, was the only major GOP contender to embrace his tenure in politics, talking of the legislation he passed.

“What separates me from all other candidates in the race is I have gotten results,” he said.

The Democrats, though not rallying around Trump, also criticized political insiders and Washington politicians.

“I, like many of you, am very tired of career politicians who keep kicking the can down the road,” Fayard said.

Campbell, a state senator for more than 25 years before his election to the PSC, described himself as “not in anybody’s shirt pocket” and railed against the “special interests” that he said too heavily influence politics.

Candidates for the election have until Friday to register for their races. In addition to the Senate seat, all six of Louisiana’s U.S. House seats will be on the ballot.

Louisiana’s four other congressmen signed up Wednesday to run for re-election: Republican U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, Ralph Abraham and Garret Graves and Democratic U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond. All but Abraham have drawn opponents.

Richmond’s challenger is Kip Holden, the mayor of Baton Rouge. The incumbent congressman called on Holden to leave office if he’s running for Congress, saying Baton Rouge needs strong leadership in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of three law enforcement officers and an ongoing investigation into the shooting death of a black man by white officers.

“Welcome to the race, but resign. Be a full-time candidate, but let the people of the city have a full-time mayor,” Richmond said.

Holden, also a Democrat, said his focus remains squarely on leading his city, and he suggested Richmond has ignored the Baton Rouge segment of the majority black district, which is more heavily centered on New Orleans.

“In Baton Rouge, he’s mostly been in the lost and found section,” Holden said of Richmond.

Richmond described Holden as “locked in his home” during the massive protests after the shooting of Alton Sterling, a black man killed by white police officers in front of a convenience store where he sold CDs.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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