Jeremy Alford

Senate candidates go soft on hard sell

by Jeremy Alford

There are definitely worse places than Louisiana to ply retail politics, the ancient art of reaching out to communities by attending local events and meeting with voters individually in their neighborhoods. This is especially true during the fall, when football games, parish fairs, festivals and the arrival of autumn temperatures keep people dancing and celebrating and generally on the go.

But even here in south Louisiana, where only hurricanes can kill the fun (until power is restored), the method is slowly be ramped down. Rumors about the death of retail politics sneak into the mainstream media on occasion, but it seems counterintuitive in a state where populism still matters.

Nonetheless, it’s showing cracks in the U.S. Senate race, particularly in the campaign of GOP state Treasurer John Kennedy. Sources close to the campaign contend there’s even a divide growing on the issue – on one side are staffers and supporters who believe televisions (showing their candidate’s commercials) are the only things voters want in their living rooms; on the other side are those who want the candidate on the road.

Kennedy communications director Leonardo Alcivar says the campaign isn’t forgoing fairs and festivals altogether this year, but it won’t be the non-stop, flesh-pressing state tour that politicians of yesteryear had to endure. “I don’t think retail politics are really going to be that important in a U.S. Senate race,” he says.

Scott Schneider, press secretary for incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, says the Democratic side of the ticket still takes retail politics seriously, which is why the campaign has hosted a number of “community dinners” around the state. Schneider says his boss also made stops in nearly half of Louisiana’s parishes in August alone.

In a recent Times-Picayune story related to this decline in retail politics, Bill Barrow reports that Landrieu’s current September schedule has been practically blank in contrast, indicating a slowdown on her side as well. He also interviews University of Louisiana-Lafayette professor Pearson Cross:
[Cross] said the style could favor Landrieu, who is seeking a third term using the argument that her seniority and reputation as a centrist benefit the state. Active public campaigning - meeting voters, drawing news coverage and shaping the tone of the race - is necessary for Kennedy to counter effectively, he said.
As it stands now, neither candidate is likely to abandon retail politics entirely this year. In fact, the public schedules for both will grow insanely packed in coming weeks, but a few of those fairs and festivals are likely being replaced with fundraisers and media interviews as voters adjust to getting their retail fixes from prime-time television commercials, rather than the real deal.