Wednesday, 19 October 2016 17:17

Louisiana U.S. Senate Debate: Fayard, Campbell, Kennnedy, boustany, Fleming wrap

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senate vacancy 3While certainly less shrill and therefore not as entertaining as the presidential debates to date, the Louisiana U.S. Senate debate among the five major candidates broadcast on Louisiana Public Broadcasting gave viewers a look at distinct strategies to advance themselves. Each may be summed by a single phrase, beginning with the rookie. 


 Caroline Fayard: I’m not a politician, I’m really not Bobby Jindal, and I’m especially not Foster Campbell 

Democrat lawyer Fayard tried to walk an incredibly fine line to make herself appear all things to all voters. By far the least experienced candidate, she tried to turn that deficit around on a question about the necessity of experience to get things done in the Senate by saying she probably could last in it longer than anybody else (she’s about a quarter-century younger than the next youngest). She preached about government not getting in the way of individuals but then offered big government as the solution to education and environmental woes, waxedfictionally about the desirability of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and its spinoffs, supported raising the minimum wage and repeated the unequal wage myth. Nowhere did she say how government would pay for all of this. 

She claimed pro-life sympathies but pledged fealty to abortion-on-demand Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. She could not avoid outing from Republican Rep. Charles Boustany’s question about of her affiliation with government-by-trial-lawyers and tried to run more against former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and her fellow Democrat contestant than confess to her close relationship with Clinton and liberal national Democrats. At least she didn’t reaffirm that she hated Republicans.


Foster Campbell: Corporations bad

By contrast, Democrat Public Service Commissioner Campbell had a ready answer for all that ills America and who should pay to fix it: those evil corporations that raped the land and shafted the little guy that he has so ably represented, according to him, in various capacities over four decades. It’s old school populism, with him hoping that it will work as it did in a brief revival that put his partisan ally Gov.John Bel Edwards into office – and mentioning Edwards more than once, assuming that would score him points with Democrats. 

But that populism rests in the past, with less educated, less informed electorates. The limitations of this strategy became apparent when, in the candidate-questioning-candidate phase, he got gigged by Republican Rep. John Flemingabout past comments evincing skepticism over increasing availability of concealed carry firearm protections and lending support to public funding of abortions, and in her closing remarks Fayard attacked him more generally as a hypocrite. Campbell fulminated over how he has more guns than anybody on the stage and he’s pro-life although he did not respond to Fayard in his closing remarks, but the contradictions like these inherent in his candidacy – in particular his large past campaign donations and vast personal wealth derived mainly from the very energy companies for which he saves his harshest criticisms – will make easy fodder for a runoff opponent, if he gets there. 

He also created for himself the most bizarre moment of the affair when, in the question phase, he asked Boustany about whether GOP Treasurer John Kennedyshould apologize for saying he would rather “drink weed killer” than support Obamacare, in claiming that offended those with mental health problems and their families. Probably few in either audience understood the back story, that one of Campbell’s children committed suicide. Understandably such a remark could upset Campbell, but insertion of counter-reaction into the debate seemed entirely forced to make a point where none really existed, as no one seriously would suggest the metaphor used by Kennedy to express his aversion to Obamacare – forms of which are used every day through many different media humorously to show extreme reluctance to doing something – came from any malice or desire to make someone else feel uncomfortable or to belittle others. 

Charles Boustany: I get results

Boustany took the bait and said Kennedy should, his only real attack on any other candidate besides trying with his question to highlight Fayard’s cozy alliance with trial lawyers. The rest of the time Boustany reeled off things he deemed accomplishments for which he took credit, emphasizing the theme that he got things done and asserting done so in a conservative fashion. More than any other candidate on the stage, he provided details and explanations for his policy preferences, displaying in-depth knowledge of issues of day. 

Yet he also ran into problems of contradictions, such as at one point claiming to have gone against the wishes of former House Speaker Republican John Boehner as an example of a conservative who delivers. But, as audiences were reminded later, Boustany actually was considered a Boehner ally, which puts off conservatives who saw Boehner and his leadership team with guys like Boustany as thwarting conservative efforts. His tactic of fusing conservatism and pragmatism may end up too hard of a lift. 

John Fleming: I’m the proven conservative

If so, it will have come largely from the efforts of Fleming, who appeared the most attack-oriented of the bunch, highlighting a Boustany deviation from ratifying conservative preferences whenever he thought he saw an opening to do so and more broadly reminding that Kennedy’s conservatism seemed rather recent and opportunistic, as the Treasurer had switched to the GOP less than a decade ago and had run to the left in his first try for the Senate in 2004. He also constantly threw in his identification as a conservative.

As a result, even though he relayed well-thought-out issue preferences he came off as less measured and more excitable than Boustany. However, that approach represents a distinct strategy – in a conservative state, make yourself seem the most conservative. Combined with effective talking points of how he has created many more jobs than any of others (as a small business owner outside of his medical practice), his service in the armed forces, and a rendition of his humble origins, he accomplished that on this occasion. Whether that’s enough to carry him to the runoff and beyond is another matter. 

John Kennedy: A pox on Washington and everybody serving there, who helped liberals mess everything up

For his part, Kennedy stuck to his avenue that policies backed by liberals like Fayard and Campbell have messed up the country and conservatives in Washington like Boustany and Fleming have failed to clean it up. He interjected a number of folksy bromides, some of which effectively made his point about the dangers of big government and others that seemed too simplistic to do so, and effectively parried some attacks, such as accusations he played a part in Louisiana’s budget crises when in fact he could point to outspoken opposition to spending levels in former Gov. Jindal budgets. 

But Kennedy tends to have difficulties in parrying criticisms that draw upon more complexities, and it showed at least once. Fayard claimed he opposed better fiscal practices by his lone Bond Commission opposition this spring to a debt refinancing deal that generated $81.6 million immediate dollars, but by this approval creating greater debt owed in the future with a maneuver that typically, if repeated, leads to lower bond ratings. That’s not easy to explain in a 30-second rebuttal yet can be done, and would have provided additional confirmation that he is more principled than his opponents would like him to appear (as he could argue a longstanding opposition to “gimmickry” in financial matters), but he didn’t come close to an effective response. 

So if we look for a presumed winner from this bunch, all won in the sense that they succeeded more than not in staking out desired political territory that they think can get them to a runoff. Yet that’s not the same thing as having a winning strategy to get there and beyond, evidence for which appeared in bits and pieces during the debate.



Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines

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