Could McAllister switch boost Dems?

Greg Nash

Rep. Vance McAllister’s (R-La.) change of heart to seek reelection was met with groans by Republicans and cheers by Democrats.

Now, with the freshman congressman determined to run again, Republicans are worrying they could lose the solidly conservative seat if McAllister is forced into a runoff. 

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“Vance would be the weakest candidate in a runoff against a Democrat,” Jason Dore, executive director of the Louisiana GOP, told The Hill.

The embattled politician’s reignited candidacy is ripe with problems for Republicans. He resisted calls to resign earlier this year when he was caught kissing a former staffer, instead saying he wouldn’t run for a full term.

His flip doesn’t mean he’s assured the nomination, but with a crowded Republican field already vying for the seat he still has the most name recognition. But if Democrats can coalesce behind one candidate, all bets could be off. 

After McAllister’s initial pass, a wide slate of GOP hopefuls had already formed, including businessman Harris Brown, Libertarian Clay Grant, former District Attorney Ed Tarpley and physician Ralph Abraham. State Rep. Robert Johnson and state Sen. Mike Walsworth are considering a bid, as is political consultant Mike Smith.

With the former second-place finisher, state Rep. Neil Riser, out of the running, state Sen. Elbert Guillory could also jump in the race.

During last year’s special election to replace retired Rep. Rodney Alexander (R), Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat, endorsed McAllister in the runoff and helped deliver him black voters, which helped drive him to a win, along with the endorsement of the popular family at the center of TLC’s “Duck Dynasty” reality television show.

This time around, McAllister looks unlikely to have either "Duck Dynasty" or black support. Zach Dasher, the nephew of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson, is running for the seat, and has said his family is fully in his corner now and is likely to be more active for him than they were even for McAllister, for whom they cut an endorsement ad. 

And Mayo told The Hill he’s looking “very strongly” at a run, which could force a December runoff if no candidate tops 50 percent during the November all-party voting.

And if Mayo and McAllister find themselves in a final matchup, Mayo — who came in third in the last matchup even with a handful of other Democrats in the race — may have a better shot at the seat this year. Democrats hope that if they are united behind a candidate, they could pull the coup.

“Certainly having another Republican improves our chances,” said Kirstin Alvanitakis, communications director for the Louisiana Democratic Party.

Alvanitakis wouldn’t say who the party’s pick is, but did note that Democrats are “on the same page,” unified behind one candidate expected to announce soon.

That candidate looks likely to be Mayo, who told The Hill he’ll announce his decision one way or the other this week.

“I am looking at it very strongly, and I’m going to make a decision within the next week as to whether or not to run,” he said.

Mayo said if he does run again he expects “more support and more resources to be able to get my message out.” And he also said he had a “very good conversation” with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) about a potential run, though he wouldn’t divulge details on their conversation.

His presence in the race would be a boon to Landrieu, who remains one of her party’s most vulnerable incumbents and needs every possible Democrat to turn out this cycle. A Democrat running in a heavily Republican district would give those voters a reason to head to the polls.

“She’s been supportive of me and I’ve been supportive of her in the past, and I believe that a potential candidacy on my behalf would definitely enhance her efforts in terms of turnout,” Mayo said.

The district is heavily Republican, so it’s a long shot for Democrats no matter who they’re up against. But even Republicans admit McAllister could give them an opening.

Dore said the Louisiana GOP was surprised at McAllister’s decision — “this is the first we’ve heard of it” — he said of his announcement, and while the state party won’t endorse against him, they’re not happy with his choice.

“We’re clearly disappointed that he broke yet another commitment — but now its going to be a fair fight between numerous credible and worthy candidates,” he said.

Dore said he’s confident, however, there will be two Republicans in the likely runoff.

And there’s no guarantee McAllister even makes it to the runoff. At least one of his opponents has already made an issue of McAllister’s personal relationships, and the scandal will likely dog him throughout the race.

Brown said in a statement that while McAllister “sold his candidacy … as one rooted on faith, family and country … the congressman did not take his duty nor his rhetoric seriously and brought great embarrassment upon our state and district.”

“McAllister has not been and will not be an effective voice for the people up in Washington and he is doing a tremendous disservice to the people of the district by running again,” Brown added. “McAllister needs to move out of politics so the people of the 5th Congressional District can move beyond him and his scandal.”

While he has the power of incumbency behind him, he’s heavily in debt and has refused to heed calls from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and the Louisiana GOP chairman to step down.

The self-funding candidate’s last financial disclosure report showed him strapped for cash, owing over $600,000 in various debts to legal and consulting firms, and with just $8,425 cash on hand at the end of March. He raised less than $50,000 in the first three months of the year.