2016 Senate race getting crowded

by Jeremy Alford

There are now 15 politicos — some running, some thinking about it and others simply being encouraged — who are in the hunt to replace U.S. Sen. David Vitter next year.

There are now 15 politicos — some running, some thinking about it and others simply being encouraged — who are in the hunt to replace U.S. Sen. David Vitter in 2016.

The freshest possibility of the bunch is state Rep. Brett Geymann, the term-limited Republican from Lake Charles who has been openly campaigning for the presumably vacant 3rd Congressional District.

“We’ve been in conversations with some folks, not initiated by us, about the Senate race,” Geymann said. “But we are deeply focused on the 3rd Congressional District.”

The 3rd District will presumably be vacant because Republican Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette announced from his family home last week that he too will be a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Zach Dasher, the Republican who was narrowly edged out of the 5th Congressional District runoff in 2014, has been approached about running as well.

Dasher, a cousin of the “Duck Dynasty” family, said in an interview Wednesday that a new cybersecurity business is keeping him busy but that he has not ruled out a run.

“Any time you are conservative in a state with an open seat, you have a lot of people expressing interest and you have others who are vicious and do not want you to run. I have not made a decision on what I’m going to do politically,” he said, adding a final decision would be made after Christmas.

Already announced via a holiday card sent to friends and family is former Congressman Joseph Cao, a New Orleans attorney. In neighboring Jefferson Parish, outgoing Parish President John Young also announced last week he is considering the race. Young ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor this fall. Both men are Republicans.

Another new Republican name is Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta of Metairie. Skrmetta is telling donors he is creating an exploratory committee and told LaPolitics he’ll decide by early March.

“We’ll be reasonably quiet until then,” he said.

Eager to find the next John Bel Edwards, who won an improbable victory for governor last month, national Democrats haven’t been able to convince former Congressman Don Cazayoux to run. He told LaPolitics he’s not even considering the race.

But state Sen. Gary Smith Jr. of St. Charles Parish is, and he has had several conversations with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

His move gives the Democratic side of the contest some heft, especially since it has been slow to develop. Caroline Fayard of New Orleans, who previously ran for lieutenant governor, remains in the mix as well. She’s looking at the race and being encouraged by Democrats in the region.

Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Elm Grove is the only Democrat thinking about the race who has been included in a poll so far. He’s a close ally of Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards and would run well in north Louisiana.

Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who has enjoyed a strong position in recent polls and will announce his plans after Christmas. So will state Treasurer John Kennedy. Both are Republicans.

Congressman John Fleming, a Republican from Minden, is actively campaigning and building a staff, along with retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, who ran as a Republican in the 2014 U.S. Senate election. Both men look to be candidates.

State Rep. Paul Hollis, a Republican from Covington, is thinking about joining the field, just like Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert, a former state senator with no party affiliation.

It should be an active and early race in 2016, especially since the contest is already drawing national groups, starting with the Citizens United Political Victory Fund, the affiliated PAC of Citizens United.

The political action committee has gotten ahead of the field and endorsed Fleming. Sources close to both sides expect Citizens to start spending money possibly as soon as next month to help clear a path for Fleming.

The PAC has already maxed out to the congressman, but it could start spending its own early dollars on radio, digital spots and maybe full-page newspaper ads.

More interesting are the suggestions that Karl Rove’s American Cross Roads super PAC is pushing Boustany and is looking to serve as his chief financial surrogate. Sources say a few big-name donors out of New Orleans have already signed on.

Even Hebert is positioned for some outside help from the Centrist Project, which is looking to recruit independent candidates in races around the the nation.

“We’ve spoken to Troy Hebert and we’ll be talking to him again,” said Jim Jonas, a consultant for the Centrist Project. “We’re looking at a lot of states but Louisiana could become a priority.”

Last year the Centrist Project put resources behind independent Greg Orman in Kansas, who wasn’t expected to be competitive, and brought him within 10 points of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in the runoff.

Hebert said he could chart a similar path for himself as an unaffiliated candidate should he decide to run.

“Voter frustrations are coming to a boil and I don’t mean crawfish,” Hebert told LaPolitics.

Maness likewise got his own boost from the right with endorsements from 55 different tea party leaders from around Louisiana. Retired U.S. Army General Paul Vallely, a senior military analyst for Fox News, has also endorsed Maness