In the U.S. Senate race alone 24 candidates qualified last week hoping to succeed senior Sen. David Vitter. That’s more than any other U.S. Senate race hosted by Louisiana since at least 1980.
There were 16 candidates running in 2010 to oppose Vitter’s re-election, which was the first balloting to follow the revelation about the so-called D.C. Madam controversy. Before that, in 1996, 15 candidates qualified in the race to replace retiring Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, a contest that former Sen. Mary Landrieu won.
Twenty-four candidates are difficult to manage from almost every perspective, even by the standards of Louisiana politics, said Martin P. Johnson, an LSU political science professor and the Kevin P. Reilly chair at the Manship School of Mass Communication.
“What a problem for pollsters,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I’m sure you want as many people as possible in those assessments, but what a challenge.”
It could be worse, he added; in 2003 in California the recall ballot for then-Gov. Gray Davis resulted in 135 candidates qualifying, including movie icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, an adult film star, a pornography publisher, unemployed actor Gary Coleman, a state senator and a cast of others.
Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race won’t be as crowded, but the 24 qualifications do send an early message that no single, competitive candidate has their respective base solidified yet, Johnson said.
“A big part of this is that there’s not a clear answer to the who big powerhouse will be in the future and there’s a lot of political ambition out there,” he said.
The list of notables is large and includes Congressman Charles Boustany, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, former Congressman Joseph Cao, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, attorney Caroline Fayard, Congressman John Fleming, former state legislator Troy Hebert, Treasurer John Kennedy, retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, New Orleans businessman Abhay Patel and Acadiana oil executive Joshua Pellerin — to name just 11.
On a smaller ballot, the leading candidates would be pushing for a large share of the electorate to make it to the runoff, but with the primary votes being split up among so many different names the margins will be much tighter.
“The folks who end up in the runoff will presumably have percentages in the low 20s,” said Johnson.
The two open seats in the U.S. House delegation has drawn a large number of contenders as well — 12 in the Acadiana-based 3rd Congressional District, to replace Boustany, and eight in northwest Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District, to replace Fleming.
No member of Louisiana’s House delegation will be running unopposed this fall. All of the four incumbents seeking re-election have fielded challengers.