GOP seeks to make it 52

GOP seeks to make it 52
© Courtesy of Foster Campbell and John Kennedy

Republicans are looking to lock down a 52nd Senate seat in next month's runoff election in Louisiana.

The party will be the favorite in the ruby red state overwhelmingly carried by Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump mocks Murkowski, Cheney election chances Race debate grips Congress US reentry to Paris agreement adds momentum to cities' sustainability efforts MORE. And 60 percent of the electorate in last week's jungle primary voted for one of the GOP candidates.


But Democrats recently won the Louisiana governor's mansion and Republicans say they aren’t taking the race for granted.

“Our focus right now is Louisiana, never overestimate us to screw it up because we have before,” outgoing National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) executive director Ward Baker said at a post-election briefing. “We’re going to make sure we win the Louisiana race.”

State Treasurer John Kennedy (R) and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (D) advanced from last week’s jungle primary and it’s now a sprint to the Dec. 10 runoff for GOP Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE’s seat.

Early signs point to a landslide victory for Kennedy. The GOP-leaning polling firm Trafalgar Group has him leading with 58 percent, compared to Campbell with 35 percent of the vote.

Kennedy topped the 24-candidate primary field with 25 percent of the vote and is a well-known quantity in the Pelican State after serving statewide since 2000. He has unsuccessfully run for the Senate twice, and changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 2007.

His main GOP primary opponents, Reps. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyFormer lawmakers call on leadership to focus on unity Partial disengagement based on democratic characteristics: A new era of US-China economic relations Lobbying world MORE and John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingLobbying world Trump wants Congress to delay Census deadlines amid pandemic Meadows sets up coronavirus hotline for members of Congress MORE, endorsed him in a sign that they're willing to bury the hatchet after a bitter primary.

To protect the GOP firewall, the NRSC opened 10 field offices across Louisiana and confirmed a coordinated TV ad buy that began Thursday. ESAFund, the super-PAC backing Kennedy, also announced a $500,000 statewide TV ad buy. And since his primary victory, Kennedy has attended fundraisers with Senate GOP leaders.

“Nobody’s going to outwork me,” Kennedy told The Hill in an interview. “We haven’t wasted any time, it really is a sprint.”

Though Republicans are taking precautions, the terrain is even more favorable this year for the party.

Trump swept the state by 20 points and the party saw major gains on Election Day from Congress to state legislatures.

Kennedy, who backed Trump in the primary, is promoting his alignment with the president-elect. He hopes that will offset likely drop off in turnout.

The enthusiasm for Trump and the formidable GOP ground game means Campbell faces an uphill climb.

“[Kennedy] did extremely well considering you had five strong candidates...and then with the backdrop of Trump’s popularity, the question is what kind of scenario can you come up with that would allow Campbell to have a decent chance and nobody can come up with a scenario that’s feasible,” said Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat, who runs Southern Media & Opinion Research.

Democrats feel emboldened by their win in last year’s governor’s race where John Bel Edwards defeated Vitter. But Louisiana political observers point to a unique set of circumstances for that win, including the barrage of scrutiny leveled against Vitter.

Campbell, a former longtime state senator who has previously run for governor, landed Edwards’s coveted endorsement in the primary, which will be a powerful asset in the runoff. His main Democratic opponent, attorney Caroline Fayard, has also endorsed Campbell.

But will Edwards put a lot of clout behind his endorsement?

“It’ll be interesting to see how much political capital the governor is going to want to continue to extend on this race when the oddsmakers are kind of seen to be getting behind Kennedy,” said Jeremy Alford, editor and publisher of LaPolitics.com. “The governor isn’t one to leave his friends hanging that’s for sure.”

Louisiana's Democratic Party is working with Campbell, but it is unclear how much national Democrats will invest in the race. One staffer said the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) so far has no plans to invest in the race, though it is under discussion.

That hasn’t deterred Campbell, who describes himself as an independent voice and an unwavering supporter of raising the minimum wage. He also voiced his willingness to work with Trump where there’s policy overlap.

“I’ve got a record to run on of being pro-consumer, pro-working people, pro-agriculture, and pro-guts,” he told The Hill. “I got exactly what Washington needs: common sense and backbone to do the right thing.”

To make up for the voter disparity in the primary electorate — 60 percent voted for a GOP candidate while nearly 40 percent backed a Democratic candidate — observers explained that Campbell will need to sway moderate Republican voters and white Democrats as well as making sure his own base doesn’t sit at home.

“He needs to find some issue that would overcome him being a Democrat in a year of when Republicans are running very well in a red state,” said Clancy DuBos, political editor at Gambit Weekly in New Orleans.

With only three weeks left of campaigning, both candidates are racing to define their opponent in a runoff that will likely be as nasty as the crowded primary.

Campbell ran an ad this week linking Kennedy to former Gov. Bobby Jindal and Vitter. In an interview, he described Kennedy as someone who has changed since first taking office. He also took a shot at him for being unequivocally loyal to oil companies that Campbell argues should be responsible for any coastal damage they cause.

Kennedy has pointed to Campbell’s support for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhy does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams? Republican legislators target private sector election grants How Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 MORE in the presidential election. His super-PAC ran an ad targeting Campbell over ObamaCare, which has seen rising premium costs and may be dismantled by congressional Republicans next year.

Kennedy said their differences could be best summed up using an analogy with Louisiana cuisine staples: “Commissioner Campbell and I are about as different as gumbo and grits.”