Their attention focused on Trump’s Shermanesque march through the Republican Party, Acadiana residents should be forgiven for not having paid closer attention to the race in their own backyard. The many candidates who have qualified for the 3rd District seat being vacated by Republican Charles Boustany have labored in obscurity. But this is typical for this district, which is home to 755,000 citizens and stretches from the Texas border to St. Mary Parish.
Only twice in recent years has the 3rd District had a contest of any note. In 2004, a lively race to see who would succeed Chris John ended with Boustany besting Don Cravins Sr. and Willie Mount. A second memorable contest resulted from legislative redistricting in 2011, which placed two incumbents into one recrafted district. Today, Boustany’s decision to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter once again brings feverish competition to the 3rd District election.
Leaving aside the 2012 contest, which was not as close as the expensive and bitter campaign made it seem, the casual observer might conclude from the quotidian affairs of 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2014 that no one really coveted Boustany’s post. But open seats draw crowds, and no less than 12 candidates have qualified for the post, although some are more serious than others.
Reflecting the new reality of Louisiana politics and quite unlike the race in 2004, eight of the pretenders to Boustany’s seat are Republican, leaving two Democrats, one Libertarian and one “no party” to round out the field.
This GOP skewing of the candidate field reflects the strongly Republican character of the district, which, in the Obama years, has become as axiomatic as was Democratic domination in former years. One measure of this is provided by the Cook Partisan Voting Index, which predicts voting behavior based on the levels set by the previ- ous presidential election. This measure, when applied to the 3rd District, produces an R+19 score. This means that Trump is likely to exceed the national percentage of the vote by 19 percentage points in the 3rd District. If, for example, Trump gained 47 percent of the vote nationally, he could expect to receive 66 percent of the vote here. As this measure suggests, the 3rd District will continue to be inhospitable to Democratic candidates, regardless of how they present themselves and despite the roughly 25-30 percent of voters who vote Democratic in every election.
A poll of 800 likely voters by the Trafalgar Group showed Republican Scott Angelle with a commanding lead over his competitors. Conducted in early June, the poll gave Angelle 39.19 percent of the vote, followed by Clay Higgins (17.5%), Greg Ellison (7.5%), Brett Geymann, (5.27%), Gus Rantz, (2.6%) Erick Knezek, (1.92%), Grover Rees, (1.76%) and undecided at 24.25%. This poll was prior to the departure of Knezek from the race and the entrance of two Democrats, Larry Rader of New Iberia and Jacob “Dorian Phibian” Hebert of Lafayette. A poll of 400 voters taken later in June by Harper Polling (again, before the two Dems entered the race) showed Rantz gaining at a faster clip than other relatively unknown candidates.
Despite the erratic results frequently produced by early polls, the numbers validated what most pundits expected: Angelle is likely to dominate this race and may even gain 50 percent on the first ballot, thereby avoiding a runoff. Support for this belief comes from Angelle’s strong showing during the 2015 governor’s race. In that race, Angelle won a majority of the vote in St. Martin Parish (62%) and a plurality of the vote in five of the other eight parishes represented in the 3rd District (Acadia, Cameron, Iberia, Lafayette, and Vermilion). Angelle’s only weakness was in Calcasieu Parish, where he placed third (18%) behind eventual winner John Bel Edwards (40%) and Jay Dardenne (24%).
Angelle’s fundraising underscores his strength relative to the other candidates. The FEC report shows that Angelle has succeeded in raising more money than all of his opponents combined, while retaining a 3-1 cash on hand advantage over his closest fundraising competitors, Ellison and Rantz. While dollars are not votes, a strong financial report indicates broad support in a crucial area. By this measure Angelle is well ahead.
Having run for two state offices (Public Service Commission and governor) immediately prior to his congressional bid, Angelle may be less interested in a lengthy congressional career than he is in replicating the steps of another defeated candidate who bided his time in Congress while waiting for a second shot. The previously defeated candidate was, of course, Bobby Jindal, who was twice elected to the 1st District congressional seat while keeping his attention focused on supplanting Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
Angelle is likely to deny this. Yet, both he and Acadiana might benefit should these events unfold. The combination of Angelle in Congress and Boustany in the Senate would give Acadiana voters the clout they’ve lacked since the days of John Breaux and Jimmy Hayes. Furthermore, the possibility that Angelle may move on after two terms explains why so many are running this time: to establish name recognition and lay the groundwork for a future campaign.
Pearson Cross is an associate professor in the Political Science Department at UL Lafayette. He holds a Ph.D. from Brandeis University (1997), and his principal areas of teaching are state and local politics, and Southern politics. Cross interviews local politicians and newsmakers on his radio show, “Bayou to the Beltway,” which airs on KRVS 88.7 FM at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and 5:30 p.m. on