In the next eight weeks, Louisiana's jungle primary for U.S. Senate will likely resemble two mini-primaries in one. Technically, all 24 candidates are vying for the top two spots on Nov. 8, hoping to make it to the Dec. 10 runoff. But in reality, the two major Democrats and the six well-known Republicans will wage unofficial, separate primaries. History suggests that's the safest bet, as our election system favors candidates on the edges, not those in the middle, when it comes to making the runoff.
The competition will be interesting to watch. Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy remains the front-runner. He has the most name recognition; this is his ninth statewide campaign since 1991. He also has burnished his credentials as a fiscal hawk. Next in line, according to most surveys, is Cajun Congressman Charles Boustany, whose ads tout his knack for getting things done without making a lot of noise. The Lafayette congressman's district touches several of Louisiana's largest media markets, so it's no surprise he's next in line behind Kennedy.
The task for the Republicans who trail Kennedy is to distinguish themselves. Unless one of them can peel away support from Kennedy, the treasurer could coast into the runoff ahead of the field.
Other significant GOP candidates include Congressman John Fleming of northwest Louisiana, who launched his media campaign last week; retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness of St. Tammany, who got 14 percent of the vote in the 2014 Senate race; former KKK leader and neo-Nazi David Duke, who could steal some hard-right thunder from Maness and Fleming — but probably not enough to make the runoff; and former Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao of New Orleans.
Also running from the right is former state Sen. Troy Hebert, an independent who most recently served as the state commissioner of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.
The task for the Republicans who trail Kennedy is to distinguish themselves. All are conservatives; most if not all support Donald Trump; and all will claim to have "stood up to President Obama," except perhaps Cao, who as a congressman was the only Republican to vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2009. Unless one of them can peel away support from Kennedy, the treasurer could coast into the runoff ahead of the field.
On the Democratic side, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell has assembled a team and a coalition that closely resembles that of Gov. John Bel Edwards in last year's gubernatorial election — including the guv himself, who is backing Campbell enthusiastically. Campbell's populist base includes teacher unions and many African-American leaders.
Attorney Caroline Fayard, a centrist Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010, has picked up support from former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's allies in the pro-charter school movement — and soon will get an endorsement from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, according to LaPolitics publisher Jeremy Alford. Fayard can't match Campbell's resume (she's never held public office), but she could match his money. Her dad is well-known plaintiff lawyer Calvin Fayard of Denham Springs.
So far, it's been a cordial affair in both parties. Don't expect that to last. As Nov. 8 approaches, we could see a very tight four-or-five-way race, or at least a photo finish for second place.