By Jim Ellis
Sept. 23, 2016 — The open Louisiana Senate campaign has not yet drawn much national attention, but that appears to be changing and in a big way. A new poll underscores just how close the contest is getting in the midst of surprising revelations.
Because the state’s jungle primary runs concurrently with the November general election, the action among the 24 candidates who will appear on the ballot is just now beginning to sizzle. Straight from the annals of what are always colorful Louisiana campaigns, the current race has is now tinged with prostitution and even murder.
Last week, controversy erupted when author Ethan Brown released his new book “Murder in the Bayou”, which details the demise of the “Jeff Davis 8”, the apparently related individual killings of sex workers in Jefferson Davis Parish.
The book touches the Senate race because Brown claims, backed by reports from only anonymous sources, that area congressman, Charles Boustany (R-Lafayette), a respected surgeon and one of the top US Senate candidates, had involvement with at least some of the prostitutes. Brown does not infer that Boustany had anything to do with the murders, but does suggest he may have been a client.
Later in the week the congressman and his wife Bridget fought back, with her taking the lead to refute what the two say are outrageous false accusations. Later, it surfaced that a Boustany congressional staff member, who has since resigned his federal position, does have a financial interest in the hotel that served as a location for the women’s illegal enterprise. The congressman stated he is not aware of his former staff member’s business dealings.
The plot thickened when Boustany then accused Senate campaign front-runner John Kennedy (R) and the latter’s campaign staff of promulgating the false prostitution stories. Though Kennedy’s spokesperson vehemently denied that the candidate and/or staff members bore any responsibility for the story, it is clear that when referencing the situation the treasurer’s campaign personnel missed no opportunity to repeat in full the accusations against the man now seen as being in position to also qualify for the Dec. 10 run-off election. The secondary vote will occur if no candidate secures a majority on Nov. 8. Such a result is a virtual certainty with a crowded ballot, and the large number of candidates putting forth an effort to advance.
As the prostitution/murder controversy was reaching its apex, the Southern Media & Opinion Research organization conducted a statewide Senate poll (Sept. 15-17; 500 likely Louisiana voters) and found the race significantly tightening. In the few polls previously commissioned, Kennedy held a substantial lead with the other candidates, Including Rep. Boustany, relegated to scratching and clawing for second position.
According to Southern Media’s new results, Kennedy’s lead, previously hovering in the low 30s, has dropped all the way to 17 percent. Despite the brewing prostitution/ murder controversy, Boustany, for the first time, reaches second place with 15 percent.
Two Democrats then follow, former lieutant governor candidate Caroline Fayard who registers 11 percent, while Public Service Commissioner and former statewide candidate Foster Campbell comes next with nine percent preference. Rep. John Fleming (R-Minden/Shreveport), retired Air Force officer and 2014 Senate candidate Rob Maness, and ex-state representative and past Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke all follow with eight, three and three percent, respectively.
The results are particularly important and positive for Boustany. Despite the spate of negative publicity reaching its height just as this poll went in the field, the six-term congressman actually has significantly improved his standing when comparing to the polls released earlier in the election cycle.
Though it is likely that Republicans will hold retiring Sen. David Vitter’s (R) open seat when the race ends in December, which individual actually claims the final prize is still very much undecided.