Walter Pierce

On second thought: Capt. Clay could win this thing

by Walter Pierce

The former lawman is polling ahead of Scott Angelle as payback-minded Sen. David Vitter works behind the scenes against Angelle. The question remains: Will the Trump voters who got Higgins into the runoff be there for him on Dec. 10?

Clay Higgins looks heavenward

The Trafalgar Group, an Atlanta-based polling firm recently commissioned to weigh the upcoming Dec. 10 federal runoff elections, buried the lede — that’s a journalism term for placing the most important, or in this case surprising and sensational, information farther down in the story. In its news release on the poll last Friday, the firm led with news that state Treasurer John Kennedy is comfortably ahead of Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell in the U.S. Senate race. No big surprise there; Louisiana is deep red and few expect Campbell to beat Kennedy. I guess I just buried the lede, too.

What was of note in the release is that Clay Higgins, the likeable, bombastic, Bible-waving former St. Landry Parish lawman, gun-toting Harley enthusiast and wannabe reality-TV star, holds a 7-point lead over Scott Angelle, a public service commissioner and former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources whose political connections run deep and whose rhetorical skills harken back to a golden age of Louisiana politics.

Scott Angelle
Photo by Robin May

Higgins ran second in a 12-candidate field in the Nov. 8 primary that included a handful of more traditional, well-heeled Republican candidates, grabbing 26 percent of the vote (84,809 votes), just behind Angelle, who claimed 29 percent of the vote (91,374). Yet Higgins, whose political style is somewhere between country preacher and semi-pro wrestler, has surged now that it’s a two-man contest. This might seem counter-intuitive considering Angelle’s long political history, deep connections and French name here in a wholly Cajun Country congressional district. But three things seem to be working in Higgins’ favor: the same anti-establishment fervor that gave Donald Trump the Electoral College and, more important, both Sen. David Vitter’s desire for revenge and state Attorney General Jeff Landry’s desire to run for governor in 2019.

Reliable sources tell this newspaper that Vitter, who announced his retirement from the Senate following last year’s drubbing in the gubernatorial runoff against winner John Bel Edwards, is working hard behind the scenes to score some payback against Angelle, a fellow Republican who came in third in last year’s primary for governor and who declined to endorse Vitter in the runoff against Democrat Edwards. Other sources tell us that AG Landry, who was hand-selected by Vitter to take over the Vitter-created independent expenditure group (Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority) that helped Republicans secure majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature a few years ago, has also been privately lobbying for Higgins.

AG Jeff Landry
Photo by Danny Landry

Landry’s motivation for upending Angelle’s bid for Congress has at least two facets: fealty to Vitter, who served as Landry’s political mentor, and a need to knock Angelle out of the political spotlight and clear Landry’s path to challenging JBE for governor in 2019. If Angelle were to beat Higgins in the runoff for Rep. Charles Boustany’s seat in Congress, he could and probably would rip a page from former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s playbook: Jindal, after losing to Kathleen Blanco in the 2003 gubernatorial election, moved to metro New Orleans, ran for Congress, kept the seat warm for two years — and kept himself politically relevant at the same time — then ran for governor again in 2007 and easily won.

By helping vanquish Angelle in the runoff against Higgins, Landry gets a clearer path to challenging JBE for governor in 2019 and Vitter gets his pound of flesh.

Higgins still needs many if not most of the voters who were energized by Trump's presidential bid to turn out for the runoff. But if they do, look out, Washington: Clay Higgins will meet you on the side of the road with superior firepower and you will not walk away. Or something like that.