The Louisiana Senate race took a bit of an unexpected turn during the past few days that may lead to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA-6) settling their pending contest in the November 2014 primary election instead of being forced into a December run-off. Under Louisiana election law, all candidates appear on the same primary ballot, which is held concurrently with the national general election. If no candidate receives an outright majority, the top two, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to a December run-off election. In 2014, the first election is Nov. 4.
Two Republican state legislators who had already announced their intentions to join the field of candidates challenging Sen. Landrieu suddenly withdrew from the contest and endorsed Rep. Cassidy. This leaves Tea Party-backed former Air Force officer Rob Maness in the Republican field alone with Cassidy.
Though both Sen. Elliott Guillory and state Rep. Paul Hollis would have been relatively minor US Senate candidates, their presence on the ballot was significant. The more individuals drawing votes in such an electoral format, the greater the chance that no one obtains a majority. Therefore, the likelihood of going to a run-off election is much greater with a larger number of candidates.
Maness’ presence alone, assuming no others jump in and he is able to attract enough resources to run something of a competitive statewide effort, could still potentially force a run-off. Under this scenario, Landrieu would be the big beneficiary, as Maness would weaken Cassidy by drawing the more conservative voting element away from the more establishment oriented congressman. This would almost guarantee a first-place finish for the senator but, simultaneously, a stronger Maness performance also forces the secondary election.
Through the Sept. 30 financial disclosure period, Maness had only raised $101,000, far from the figures necessary to constructing a statewide media effort, or even a strong coalition-based grassroots operation. By contrast, Sen. Landrieu has $5.78 million in the bank, and Cassidy $3.49 million.
Should the field remain with just these three significant candidates – the filing deadline is not until Aug. 22, so much can still happen – the strategy of the race suddenly changes, and the bulk of the campaigning and message delivery will occur prior to the Nov. 4 election. In this configuration, should Landrieu be forced into the Dec. 6, 2014 run-off, her chances of ultimate victory dwindle exponentially.
The Louisiana Senate race is one of just a handful of contests that will decide the Senate majority. Therefore, much attention will be paid to this campaign from both political parties. It is a certainty that we haven’t yet seen the last surprise move.