BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - In Louisiana politics, tradition holds that election cycles tend to pick up after Labor Day, with intensified campaign advertising and more attention from voters. But with that holiday benchmark passed and a statewide election fewer than two months away, the major races still seem low-radar, drawing little public notice.
Maybe the massive amount of national news about President Trump’s administration and the political wrangling in Washington overshadows everything else. Maybe children returning to school and football returning to television have seized the focus. Maybe Louisiana’s elections just aren’t that interesting this year, with lopsided fundraising in congressional races, only one statewide seat up for grabs, and no high-spending governor’s race or U.S. Senate competition to watch.
Most congressional incumbents are expected to skate to re-election, and heavily contested seats are being fought among targeted base groups, rather than in broad campaigns.
Top of the Nov. 6 ballot are a statewide special election for secretary of state and decisions about Louisiana’s six U.S. House seats. Also up for consideration statewide are six constitutional changes, including a higher-profile-than-usual proposal to end Louisiana’s Jim Crow-era law that allows split juries to convict people of serious felony crimes.
Nine candidates are vying to be Louisiana’s secretary of state, a position that oversees elections, the state archives, and business registrations.
The job, often little noticed, has drawn more attention recently, with elevated national concerns about Russian meddling in elections and ballot security and with Louisiana’s last secretary of state, Republican Tom Schedler, resigning in May amid sexual harassment allegations.
Schedler’s top aide, Republican Kyle Ardoin of Baton Rouge, took over after Schedler stepped down. While Ardoin repeatedly said he wouldn’t seek the elected position, he registered to run on the final day of the election sign-up period.
Besides Ardoin, other major candidates include Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud, a Republican; Republican former Sen A.G. Crowe of Pearl River; GOP Rep. Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge; Democrat Renee Fontenot Free of Baton Rouge, who worked as top assistant to two secretaries of state; and Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner.
Cloud, Crowe, and Stokes have poured thousands of their own dollars into the effort. No candidate is expected to top 50 percent support in November, which will push the race into a Dec. 8 runoff.
All six of Louisiana’s incumbent congressmen have drawn opponents: Republicans Steve Scalise in the 1st District, Clay Higgins in the 3rd District, Mike Johnson in the 4th District, Ralph Abraham in the 5th District and Garret Graves in the 6th District and Democrat Cedric Richmond in the 2nd District.
Candidates running against Abraham, Johnson and Richmond have reported no fundraising so far, according to the Federal Election Commission. Democratic contenders seeking to oust Scalise, Graves and Higgins are more active, seeking donations, holding campaign events and organizing outreach. But they remain far behind in amassing enough money to mount significant advertising campaigns.
Scalise, the third-highest ranking GOP member of the House, drew five opponents. The two who have raised the most money to oppose him for the southeast Louisiana-based seat are Democrats: Tammy Savoie of New Orleans, a retired Air Force psychologist, and Jim Francis of Covington, who works on computer security systems.
Three contenders signed up to run against Graves for the Baton Rouge-based seat, including Justin DeWitt, a Democrat who works for a land surveying company and described himself as the first openly gay candidate to run for a congressional seat in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, six challengers are trying to oust Higgins to represent southwest and south central Louisiana. Higgins lags many of his fellow incumbents in fundraising, raising questions about his vulnerability. He’s the only incumbent congressmen in the state to face an intra-party fight, from Republican Josh Guillory, an attorney and Iraq war veteran from Lafayette. Among his Democratic opponents is Mimi Methvin, a lawyer and former federal magistrate judge from Lafayette.
Predictions abound for a low-turnout November election, though it’s unclear if it will be as dismal as the 14 percent turnout last year for the special statewide election for treasurer. Political focus already centers more on who will enter the governor’s race, a 2019 competition.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte
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