A new national political paradigm may have begun this weekend in northeast Louisiana. There, businessman Vance McAllister (R), who certainly ran as a political outsider but not an overt Tea Party Republican, easily overcame and defeated the GOP establishment candidate, state Sen. Neil Riser.
From the beginning of this special election campaign, the state legislator was viewed as the front-runner. He had strong regular Republican financial assistance, the official endorsement of resigned Rep. Rodney Alexander (R), and some unofficial backing from Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). This type of support might have been enough for him to claim 32 percent and first place in the primary election, but it did little to propel him in the special general election.
On Saturday, McAllister scored a 59.6 – 40.4 percent victory over Sen. Riser to win the open 5th District and will serve the remainder of Rep. Alexander’s final congressional term. The six-term representative left office in September to accept a state appointment from Gov. Jindal. It was clear from the outset that Riser was the heir apparent for the seat, but McAllister’s strong, largely self-funded campaign was able to overcome any establishment advantage that aided Riser.
The heart of McAllister’s victory came from the most populous area of the district, the northeast sector anchored by the region’s biggest regional metropolitan area, Monroe and West Monroe. McAllister went about racking up between 69 and 82 percent of the vote in the eight northeastern parishes, which gave the conservative businessman an insurmountable lead.
McAllister’s strategy was to become a symbol for those people frustrated with Washington and, as a person never before holding political office, was able to sell the image. Possibly the inclusion of endorsement ads from Willie and Jep Robertson of Duck Dynasty television fame, a program filmed in the district, helped sell McAllister as a bona fide non-politician despite his opponent’s claim to the contrary (see example above).
Riser echoed a lot of that same anti-Washington sentiment in his ads but, as a long time state politician, wasn’t able to sell that he would be the person to best change the national political system. Riser also spent advertising dollars on attack ads against McAllister, using a live chameleon to suggest that his opponent flip-flopped on certain issues such as Obamacare.
The key to McAllister winning the seat may not have been his special general election campaign, but his strategy that allowed him to secure a run-off position in the Oct. 19 primary. Though he finished 14 points behind Riser, his ability to establish himself as the symbol of a non-politician in a field of six other current or former elected office holders (and a total jungle primary field of 14 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents) allowed him to forge a clear constituency. The result proved his strategy worked to the point of catapulting above every other candidate but Riser.
Now as a congressman-elect and short-term Representative, McAllister will have the opportunity of locking down the seat and having a long tenure in the House. Louisiana rarely defeats an incumbent federal office holder of either party, so McAllister’s forecast for a long congressional career is bright.