March 22, 2017 12:42 AM

Can Candyce Perret’s huge money advantage deliver a win in a campaign that has turned off voters?

Candyce Perret has more money on hand than her two opponents combined heading into Saturday’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal election, but early voting totals from across the district show voter interest in the race bordering on non-existent.

The Perret campaign’s March 15 campaign finance report showed that her committee raised $158,000 between Feb. 14 and March 5. It’s a stunning amount of money, considering that it was raised during a three-week period in which multiple stories were published questioning her suitability and judgment — among them what seven local attorneys say is a federal investigation into her husband Hunter’s company, Louisiana Specialty Institute, as well as her arrest on a beach in Florida, in which police reports show that she claimed to be an assistant district attorney, a position she has never held.

More than half of the Perret campaign’s money, $79,399, came from individuals and law firms based in Lake Charles. Her former Opelousas law firm and partners at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan & Bassett gave her $10,000 combined.

Perret’s campaign spent $101,764 during the same period, the bulk of that in television and cable advertising buys and media production.

Perret’s committee reported it had $149,351 on hand at the end of the reporting period. Read the campaign finance report here.
Vanessa Anseman
Photo by Robin May

Vanessa Anseman’s campaign reported raising $25,025 during the same period, which ended before a court hearing on her eligibility, a process that ultimately found her eligible to seek the judgeship.

Anseman’s committee reported having $66,958 on hand in to spend in the final 10 days leading up to the primary. Read the report here.
Susan Theall
Photo by Robin May

Susan Theall’s campaign committee reported raising $14,400 during the three-week period. The report showed the committee had $36,985 on hand at the end of the reporting period. Stories about funding questions related to her successful 2011 race for the Division M seat on the 15th JDC arose after the end of the reporting period covered by the March 15 campaign finance report. Read Theall's report here.

If early voting totals are any indication, voters are indifferent to the candidates and their campaigns.

In Lafayette Parish, 1,142 voters cast early votes in person at the Registrar of Voters’ office. Another 939 had voted by mail as of Wednesday morning. Registrars can accept mailed ballots from civilians until Friday. Military members have until Saturday to get their mailed ballots counted.

The 2,081 votes (with mail ballots still coming in) constitute less than a third of the early votes cast in the Dec. 10, 2016, runoff election highlighted by races for U.S. Senate and the 3rd Congressional District. In that election, 6,365 Lafayette Parish voters cast early votes. In all, the parish turnout for that election was 29 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

If early voting is a harbinger of turnout on Saturday, Lafayette could be trending toward the low teens.

In-person early voting totals in the other parishes in the 3rd Circuit district were (mailed ballot totals as of Wednesday morning in parenthesis):

Acadia - 1,614 (538)
Allen - 124 (55)
Evangeline - 252 (87)
Iberia - 429 (333)
St. Landry - 402 (433)
St. Martin - 601 (402)
Vermilion - 762 (263)

UL political science professor and IND contributor Pearson Cross believes low voter interest amplifies Perret’s money advantage.

“In a low voter interest election, I think the fact that Perret has been on TV longer than the other campaigns could be a difference maker,” Cross says. “Low turnout elections highlight the importance of chronic voters. In a race like this, voters won’t have a lot of information on the candidates. Name recognition could carry the day.

Pearson Cross
Photo by Robin May

Cross adds that personal contact with the voters could also prove decisive. Perret and Susan Theall have been campaigning across the district. Anseman has spent much of the past two weeks working to defend her candidacy in the courts.

Theall and Anseman have faced off in a number of forums, which Perret has avoided.

WILL THE LEGAL COMMUNITY DECIDE THIS RACE?

One segment of the population that does have an intense interest in the race and its outcome is lawyers, most of which are concentrated in Lafayette Parish.

The Louisiana State Bar Association has 1,828 attorney members in the eight-parish district, 1,282 of them based in Lafayette Parish, according to numbers provided by Sharon Lessing, LSBA’s membership records assistant.

The attorneys constitute a negligible fraction of the 410,377 registered voters in the district based on March 1 numbers from the Secretary of State’s office, even if those who work in the offices are included.

But let there be no doubt. Lawyers will vote in this election.

[Editor's Note: For more on The IND's coverage of the race, read "Four days out, here's your humdinger of 3rd Circuit roundup," which also links to past stories.]

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