Political fireworks in Louisiana, Mississippi
The world is a politically tense place these days with hot spots ranging from the Middle East to Ukraine.
In Louisiana and Mississippi, where the political chessboard tends to be a lot less threatening and at times entertaining, this election season is living up to expectations.
Let’s start with the marquee match-up in Mississippi.
Until the Republican primary many analysts had expected few fireworks among races for the U.S. House and Senate. The state’s only Democrat in Congress, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, seemed secure, as did incumbent Republicans in Mississippi’s three other House districts.
Then came June 3, when tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel rode a crest of anti-Washington sentiment to almost oust incumbent Republican Thad Cochran. An emboldened McDaniel let loose with a fiery speech to mobilize the troops. Cochran was a no-show on election night.
The McDaniel camp sensed blood in the water.
Cochran, in Congress since the 1970s, had never faced a major challenge. Establishment Republicans — including the powerful Barbour family — went to work in an attempt to head off disaster.
If you buy into McDaniel’s argument, the strategy involved luring Democrat-leaning black voters with a hefty dose of fear of the tea party. In Mississippi, voters don’t register by party. The law says if you vote in one party’s primary, you can’t vote in the other party’s runoff.
The June 24 runoff showed Cochran winning by several thousand votes, and the McDaniel camp immediately cried foul. Cochran, they say, inappropriately went after Democrat-leaning voters and some — the campaign claims — may not have been eligible to vote in the runoff.
McDaniel still hasn’t decided whether he will formally challenge the results, but he’s making a lot of noise.
While it’s hard to say whether Cochran’s strategy crossed a legal line, the win was a personal payback. Weeks earlier, several top McDaniel tea party supporters went to a nursing home and allegedly took photos of Cochran’s infirm wife, Rose, without her permission. Authorities say the group intended to smear the senator.
Across the Mississippi River in neighboring Louisiana, election-season follies also are in full swing.
In the state’s 5th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Vance McAllister says he will seek re-election. The “kissing congressman” has waffled on running after a leaked surveillance video showed him locking lips with a staff member at his Louisiana office. Both are married.
McAllister apologized, then withdrew from public activity for a time to work things out with his family.
As if there aren’t already enough clichés for attack-ad creators to build on, McAllister has drawn opposition from Republican Zach Dasher, a member of the “Duck Dynasty” TV family. The “Duck” folks took heat after patriarch Phil Robertson’s opposition to gay rights, which he said he bases in the Bible-belt values of Louisiana’s northeast parishes. Will the God-fearing give McAllister another chance, or vote for the “Duck” guy?
The likely mud-slinging probably won’t turn into an opportunity for Democrats because the district is heavily Republican.
Over in the Baton Rouge-centered 6th Congressional District, there’s another comeback in play.
Louisiana’s lovable rogue, former governor and convicted felon Edwin Edwards, is running as a Democrat for a seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy. Cassidy is running against incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
The Cassidy-Landrieu race has serious implications for control of the Senate. Republicans think Landrieu’s support of the Affordable Care Act makes her vulnerable. Landrieu defends her record, and recently rolled out commercials in which she and her father, former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, have a dad-and-daughter chat.
Lots of campaign cash (so far $13.5 million for Landrieu and $8 million for Cassidy) is pouring in.
The Edwards race, well, that’s just interesting.
The 87-year-old former governor spent eight years in federal prison on a gambling-related corruption conviction. He emerged in 2011 with a new view of life, took a new wife, fathered a child and appears concerned about his legacy in Louisiana’s political history.
Clearly, the former governor wants to go out on a positive note and be remembered as a powerful political broker who wouldn’t quit. He’s making the political talk circuits and showing up to chat with the press, sounding like someone who wants to be elected.
His task is a tough one: the district is solidly Republican.
In the end, one wonders whether Louisiana will “vote for the crook” again, as it did in the 1991 governor’s race. That year there was so much fear that Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke might win that bumper stickers sprouted proclaiming “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”
What’s more certain is a lively political fireworks show is in full swing in Louisiana and Mississippi.