John Kennedy is praying for you

By Robert Mann

On Sept. 13, Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, issued the following statement:

“Earlier today, the [Charles Boustany] campaign sent out an email alleging that my campaign and other candidates’ campaigns for the U.S. Senate played a role in the shocking story alleging illegal behavior from Congressman Boustany and his staff. I want to be very clear that my campaign played absolutely no role in creating this story alleging Congressman Boustany’s sexual relationships with prostitutes that were later murdered, his staff’s alleged involvement in running the bar and hotel where this illicit behavior took place, or publishing the book‘Murder in the Bayou’ written by Ethan Brown and published by Simon and Schuster.

“With just a few weeks left before Election Day, my campaign is focused exclusively on talking about real solutions to address our country’s problems. My wife Becky and I are keeping the congressman, Mrs. Boustany and their children in our prayers as they deal with this as a family.”

After I read this incredible statement, I tried to imagine what Kennedy must have been like early in his career, particularly in high school. Here’s what I imagine he might have said back then.

Statement by Johnny Kennedy, candidate for 9th Grade Class President, 1966

“Earlier today, the people running the annual Zachary High School Spelling Bee launched an investigation into shocking allegations about Danny Smitherman, who was the winner of this year’s competition and is my opponent for class president.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with bringing to light these troubling charges that Danny cheated and might not deserve the trophy. I did not suggest to Mr. Johnson that Danny had persuaded Jenny Wilson to sit in the fifth row and mouth the letters to Danny. I was not the one who called Mr. Johnson at home Thursday at 10:03 p.m. to report this illicit behavior. Also, the fact that Jenny dumped me last month for Danny had nothing to do with these allegations coming to light three days before the election.

 Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Good, slim or none? What are Democrats’ chances in this year’s Louisiana Senate race?

By Robert Mann

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ victory over U.S. Sen. David Vitter in last year’s governor’s race gives hope to Democrats across Louisiana. If a little-known Democratic state representative could knock off a well-financed two-term incumbent Republican, why shouldn’t Democrats also have a legitimate shot at Vitter’s Senate seat this November?

Vitter is not running for re-election and Democrats have proven, against the odds, that they can compete in one of the reddest of red states. Even better, this time Republicans are dividing their loyalties among five major candidates, while Democrats have known quantities in Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and attorney and business executive Caroline Fayard.

Campbell served 26 years in the state Senate. Fayard lost a 2010 runoff for lieutenant governor to Republican Jay Dardenne, who is now Edwards’ commissioner of administration. Campbell seems to have an edge, having earned Edwards’ strong endorsement earlier this year.

So, the stars are aligned for a competitive race that a Democrat could win? Well, not so fast.

I’m the first to admit I unwisely discounted Edwards’ chances against Vitter. Louisiana voters had not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2008 and there was little I saw to indicate they would suddenly change their behavior.

What I overlooked was that after eight years of Bobby Jindal’s misrule, voters ached for change. No ally of Jindal, Vitter should have been that change – except that Edwards and his allies transformed the race into a referendum on the morally challenged Republican. He went down in a landslide, sunk by voters who were turned off by his 2007 prostitution scandal.

This time, however, the contours of the race are vastly different, meaning that capturing the Senate seat should be far more daunting for a Democrat than was the work of beating Vitter.

While not impossible, it will be difficult to make this race a referendum on personalities. Unlike the 2015 governor’s race, the Louisiana Senate election occurs in conjunction with the presidential election, during which ideology and party identification are almost always at the forefront of voters’ minds. (It is worth noting that Vitter won reelection in 2010, a mere three years after his prostitution scandal, precisely because ideology, not personality, defined his reelection campaign.)

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Why Donald Trump’s rise reminds us of David Duke

By Robert Mann

Former KKK leader David Duke was once an aberration in the Republican Party – an unabashed racist and xenophobe seeking higher office by appealing to voters’ baser instincts.

The novelty of Duke, running again for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana this year, was once enough to earn him a rabid following and the widespread scorn of GOP leaders in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C. A generation ago, Duke cleverly leveraged that establishment scorn into 43 percent in his 1990 U.S. Senate campaign against then-incumbent J. Bennett Johnston (full disclosure: I was Johnston’s campaign press secretary at the time) and 39 percent the following year in a wild runoff for governor. 

In both races, Duke won almost a third of Louisiana’s 64 parishes (counties), including several in the suburbs of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In both races, he captured a majority of the state’s white vote.

It’s been 25 years, but memories of those ugly, racism-tinged campaigns are not distant and certainly not forgotten. Duke’s was a prelude for “mainstream” Republicans who would eventually win almost all the state’s major elected offices. However, as more respectable Republicans harvested the corn Duke sowed, the neo-Nazi, white supremacist hero was sitting in a federal prison after prosecutors caught him bilking supporters of contributions, much of which he gambled away at casinos.

Last Friday, however, he strutted into the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office to file for the Senate. “I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years,” Duke said.

Duke’s candidacy has thus far elicited little of the popular excitement and enthusiasm that swept the state’s white precincts in the early 1990s. Many of his erstwhile supporters are still around, for sure. But Duke is largely passé in the Bayou State, a sad, corrupt curiosity from a time when his bigotry wasn’t quite ready for prime time in the GOP.

How appropriate, then, that a Trump acolyte like Duke declared his candidacy the morning after the New York mogul formally accepted the GOP standard in Cleveland. The two men deserve each other. Although Trump wanly disavowed Duke’s endorsement, they draw support from the same fetid well.

Continue reading at The Hill at this link.

Does Mary Landrieu have a chance? Not if she can’t win more white votes

Screen shot of November 6, 2014, Louisiana exit poll from CNN.com
Screen shot of November 6, 2014, Louisiana exit poll from CNN.com

By Robert Mann

It’s now clear that Sen. Mary Landrieu’s relentless talk about her clout took a big hit in Tuesday’s election. Not only has much of her power vanished along with the Democrats’ Senate majority; her message about what she has done for Louisiana did not resonate with voters.

If Landrieu ekes out a surprising, narrow win in her Dec. 6 runoff with Rep. Bill Cassidy, she might give thanks for Tuesday’s rebuke, which will force her to talk about something that really matters to voters.

As I have written before, reminding voters disgusted with Congress about one’s Washington seniority was not a winning message. Cassidy had the more effective pitch, which was, essentially, “Elect me and I will vote against Barack Obama 100 percent of the time.”

Landrieu’s clout message might have worked a generation ago, but an older, whiter electorate was more interested in punishing President Obama than embracing Landrieu and all her power.

Perhaps Landrieu had polling data that suggested a message about her clout was potent. If so, based on Tuesday’s results, she needs a new pollster. She might even need a new media consultant. Whatever the case, she must retool her message and began speaking more to voters’ real-life concerns.

On election night, Landrieu moved quickly to refocus her message. Recognizing that Cassidy is the clear frontrunner, she challenged him to six debates and unveiled a website that hits him on a range of pocketbook issues important to the voters she most needs in December.

Does Landrieu have any route to victory? Not likely. If she does, however, it may be in a little-noticed poll conducted in mid-October by Democracy Corps, a Democratic organization headed by pollster Stanley Greenberg and political strategist James Carville. The two surveyed 1,000 white likely Louisiana voters, including a subset of 456 persuadable white likely voters.

Democracy Corps tested a series of messages by Cassidy and Landrieu. Among the more resonant messages for Landrieu were those about Cassidy’s support for raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 (an issue Landrieu has discussed in her TV spots) and Cassidy’s votes against a bipartisan plan to protect victims of domestic violence and his opposition to guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work.

In this poll, the worst message, by far, for Landrieu was about her power and influence. On the other hand, messages about Social Security, Medicare and women’s issues resonated with about 70 percent of those persuadable white voters.

“The strongest comparative between Landrieu and Cassidy centers on women’s issues – Landrieu’s support for equal pay, ending insurance discrimination and making college affordable versus Cassidy’s votes against equal pay, the Violence Against Women Act and preventative health care for women,” Carville and Greenberg write.

Perhaps Landrieu’s strategists didn’t see this survey. They have certainly seen the election returns. They now know it’s time for a hard reset.

Continue reading at NOLA.com this link.

Why does Bill Cassidy want you to work until age 70?

By Robert Mann

If ever a candidate for high public office proved himself disconnected from the worries and fears of average citizens, it was Rep. Bill Cassidy in last Tuesday’s U.S. Senate debate in Shreveport.

A three-term Republican congressman, Cassidy seems to have trouble connecting with the average fellow. His pedantic speaking style was evident during the televised debate with incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu and Tea Party favorite Rob Maness.

However, it wasn’t Cassidy’s awkward delivery that should worry voters. It is, instead, his appalling ambivalence to the travails of older Americans who rely on Social Security income for survival that should cause concern.

In the debate, Cassidy tried to make a case for raising the Social Security retirement age to 70. For most Baby Boomers, the retirement age is 66, but it’s been gradually inching up so that anyone born after 1959 will not receive full benefits until age 67.

Those were actions taken in 1983 to shore up the system, which Cassidy claims will go “bankrupt” without dire, corrective action. “Bankrupt” is the wrong word, but useful if you want to scare voters. By 2035, the system will only be able to pay 75 percent of earned benefits. Not good, but certainly not bankrupt.

Social Security has problems, but they’re not so serious to require the harmful medicine Cassidy prescribes: make older Americans work another three years.

It’s not really Cassidy’s idea. Increasing the retirement age has long been a “solution” for Social Security’s problems, a bulwark against an easier approach that would strengthen the system without the pain and suffering Cassidy recommends.

Raising the income cap for Social Security – thereby expanding its tax base – would solve Social Security’s problems for many decades to come, but corporate titans and Cassidy’s wealthy friends oppose it.

Right now, if you earn $117,000, you pay the exact amount of Social Security taxes that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett pay on their hundreds of millions in annual income. That hardly seems fair, especially when the alternative is forcing millions of older people, many of them with no other income, to continue working physically taxing jobs until they turn 70.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link: http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2014/10/social_security_retirement_age.html#incart_river— 

Says the Louisiana GOP: buy a house — and keep your mouths shut

By Robert Mann

I’ve already written about the silly lawsuit by state Sen. Paul Hollis challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu’s candidacy based on the question of her legal residency. Hollis will almost certainly lose, because the suit is clearly frivolous. The Constitution sets the requirements for a U.S. senator, not state legislatures and state judges.

But the fact that Hollis and other Republicans are screaming so loudly about the question of Landrieu’s property ownership suggests that it’s not about her devotion to Louisiana or her strong self-identification with the Bayou State.

It’s strictly about home ownership.

Which raises this question? Do Hollis and Landrieu’s major Republican opponents, Rep. Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness, believe that a person must own property to run for elective office? Are those living with family members, but do not have their names on a title or a mortgage, unqualified to serve the public?

That was once the rule for participation in public life in this country — for voting and holding office. But we stopped requiring property ownership long ago. Is this a sign that Republicans are reviving ownership of property as a test for holding office?

Strictly speaking, such a test would not prevent Landrieu from running. She owns property in Louisiana.

But the larger question is: what hurdles do Republicans like Hollis (and now Donald Trump) believe that candidates ought to clear before they are qualified for elective office?

Trump, who supports Cassidy, has made it clear where he stands. He tweeted on Friday, “Senator Landrieu, If you are a Senator representing Louisiana, then you SHOULD own a home in the state. Send @ to the Senate!”

Among those who re-tweeted Trump’s comment was Cassidy’s press secretary, Jillian Rogers.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 1.27.58 PM

While some prominent Republicans believe that candidates must own a home before running for office, other prominent voices in Louisiana Republican Party circles seem to be arguing that citizens have no right criticize public officials unless they are willing to challenge that official in an election.

Last year, Kyle Plotkin — then Gov. Bobby Jindal’s deputy chief of staff and now his chief of staff — fired off an angry tweet at me, suggesting my criticisms of Jindal weren’t valid unless I ran for governor myself. “i’ve got an idea,” Plotkin told me. “run 4 gov. Put ur ideas up 4 debate instead of just tweeting & complaining.”

IMG_2644photo (2)

As I observed at the time,

Let’s give Plotkin the benefit of the doubt. Apparently he has a 14-year-old son who has hacked his Twitter account. (And he clearly does not know how to spell “your.”)

Just contemplate what it means if that’s truly the opinion of the governor’s senior staff — that you shouldn’t speak out or criticize the governor unless you become a candidate for public office. Everyone else, keep quiet. The public sphere isn’t for mere citizens!!

That approach to public dissent has now found its way into the commentary of Jindal’s good friend and acolyte and LSU Board of Supervisors member, Rolfe McCollister.

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Dismal numbers: polling and fundraising woes bedevil Cassidy’s campaign against Landrieu

Public Policy Polling
Public Policy Polling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Robert Mann

A new statewide poll is out on the 2014 Louisiana U.S. Senate race — and it’s not good news for Sen. Mary Landrieu‘s GOP opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy. The government shutdown he supported has damaged his struggling campaign.

According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), Landrieu now leads Cassidy 48 percent to 41 percent.

“Voters oppose the shutdown 60/30, and 47% say they’re less likely to vote for Cassidy for the Senate next year because he supported it compared to only 32% who are more likely to,” PPP reported. “Landrieu’s lead grows to 52/42 when voters are informed of Cassidy’s position on the shutdown.”

PPP added: “These polls make it clear that across the country, whether a state voted for Obama by 10 points or voted for Romney by 20, voters are extremely angry about the government shutdown. And it’s going to make Republican hopes of taking back the Senate next year that much harder.”

The poll was conducted among registered voters on October 14-15 on
behalf of Americans United for Change. 632 were interviewed in Louisiana with a margin error of +/-3.9 percent.

The poll numbers are the second bit of bad news for Cassidy this week. In the most recent fundraising quarter, Landrieu raised almost twice as much as Cassidy. She now has $5.78 million in cash on hand.  Cassidy, meanwhile, has only $3.4 million on hand. Worse, he increased his net cash on hand last quarter by a meager $200,000.

In a devastating critique of Cassidy’s campaign, conservative blogger Scott Wilfong wrote on Wednesday,

It has become painfully apparent that the Bill Cassidy for Senate Campaign, now in its sixth month, has lost steam. Republican insiders from around the state had never bought into the idea projected by the campaign that Cassidy would be the undisputed Republican nominee to take on Mary Landrieu. The recent third quarter campaign earnings only confirm what we’ve known all along; Cassidy may not be the party’s best shot at defeating Landrieu. 

Earlier this week, Politico leaked a dismal earnings report for the Cassidy campaign. Only $690k had been raised in the third quarter, which is only a little better than half of the $1.2 million the campaign raised in its first quarter (Q2). But most importantly, and most alarming, is that the campaign appears to have spent over $500,000 in the last few months with little to show for it. At the end of Q2, Cassidy reported $3.2 million cash on hand. Now, he claims to only have $3.4 million – a net of a paltry $200k. At that rate he will have barely $4 million come election time.

Go left, Rep. Cassidy

By Robert Mann

It’s a safe bet that every day someone advises Sen. Mary Landrieu to move further to the right if she wants to win re-election in 2014.

Bill Cassidy
Rep. Bill Cassidy (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

But are any advisors telling her Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, that he should move a bit leftward?

If they’re smart, they will.

It’s an article of faith that in a reliably red state like Louisiana, Democrats must run as “Light Republicans” to stay in office.

No doubt, Louisiana is a very conservative state. President Barack Obama lost the state’s nine electoral votes in 2008 to John McCain and again in 2012 to Mitt Romney, earning roughly 40 percent of vote each time. In his 2010 re-election bid, Sen. David Vitter trounced Charlie Melancon. Gov. Bobby Jindal, of course, cruised to victory in 2011 against token opposition.

So, it is reasonable to say that the surest way to win a Louisiana election is to move as far right as possible?

If you’re running for a U.S. House seat in Shreveport, Monroe, Metairie or Baton Rouge, that might be good advice. But in a statewide race, it’s not that simple.

This is a state, after all, in which Obama is now more popular than Jindal.

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