Quiet Race About To Be Not-So-Quiet

Television buys, anonymous tips to reporters, shielded social media accounts and independent expenditures. Yes, the race for state treasurer has finally started — with less than four weeks to go until the Oct. 14 primary.

The newest kid on the block is the Redfish Action Fund, which has nothing to do with fishing. It's actually a political action committee that's being run by a group of conservative operatives. While the outfit has a much broader mission and set of objectives, in terms of politics, the treasurer’s race will be where most folks are first introduced to its outreach and tactics.

So far the Redfish PAC has only targeted (negatively) former commissioner of administration Angele Davis of Baton Rouge in social media posts. But those familiar with its game plan say research on other candidates in the race will be rolled out soon. You won’t see the group on television this cycle, but sizable digital buys are on the way. (As far as what’s ahead, you can expect Redfish to focus on the administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards and the 2018 legislative year.)

Other tipsters of a more anonymous nature are likewise starting to show up in the email inboxes of reporters with leads on the candidates’ professional backgrounds and their fundraising. It’s only a matter of time before some of that opposition research (also known as political mud) ends up on a blog or, worse, as fodder on Facebook and Twitter.

After being the last candidate to join the field, Davis is now up on TV with two different ads — one that focuses on her support for President Donald Trumpand another that focuses on her “small town” background (and again mentions Trump). It’s a media strategy that’s worth taking note of, especially after we saw several candidates last cycle riding the coattails of the commander-in-chief and some of them claiming victory because of it. No other candidate in the field is playing up Trump as much as Davis.

State Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia, who was the first to go up on television around the time Hurricane Harvey was causing trouble, also went live last week with a new, slick-looking TV ad that includes a few beautiful shots of the Capitol. “He was the only candidate for treasurer to vote against the increase in sales tax,” the narrator says of Riser in the spot, which brings to mind the third major candidate without actually mentioning his name.

Former Rep. John Schroder of Covington, despite having the biggest bank account in the race, had yet to go on television as of this week. Media consultant Lionel Rainey said, “Our strategy isn't based on what other campaigns are doing. We're very confident in our message and media plan and we're sticking to it.”

Others affiliated with the campaign, though, say Schroder will make a rather large statewide television buy very soon to close out the primary. It sounds like the plan could be to just blow out the points in every market in the state during these final weeks. And that could make it an extremely important buy, when and if Schroder pulls the trigger. It’s unknown exactly how far and wide Davis and Riser are spending on their commercials, but based on the cash they’re working with their buys are unlikely to be massive.

This election could become yet another case study on the value of sitting on campaign money until the last minute, which is what Congressman Garret Graves of Baton Rouge did successfully in 2014 during his first run for office. That tactic, however, is never guaranteed to work, which means this race could just as easily become a modern case study on what it means to go on TV early during a low-energy election cycle.

But what about New Orleans attorney Derrick Edwards, the lone Democrat in the field? Without the Louisiana Democratic Party behind him, and in the face of several hometown influencers backing someone else in the race, questions linger about how he will actually perform on the October ballot.

The fundamentals of statewide politics suggest he’s a lock for the runoff, since Republicans will carve up their side of their electorate and, in theory, leave the Democratic diehards to Edwards. But there are a few lobbyists, consultants and prognosticators wondering if we could be looking at an all-GOP runoff, which is difficult to swallow.

Still, as traditional Democratic support for Edwards has become splintered in recent months, Riser has done the best job of leveraging the situation. In New Orleans, for instance, he recently enjoyed a fundraiser that was co-hosted by Democratic Sens. Wesley BishopTroy Carter and J.P. Morrell. Senators definitely stick together, but it feeds into a larger narrative that has been building about Riser making all the right moves with minority community leaders in metro areas around the state.

While Democratic diehards would normally shy away from supporting a rural lawmaker like Riser, politics have been sharing the details of related conversations where Riser was sold as a “Republican we can work with” and a potential treasurer who “won’t be overly critical of the governor.” Some conservatives might not like that approach, but in a field dominated by Republicans, voters from the other party can matter just as much. If not more.

Then again, with turnout expected to spike at or below 20 percent, every single vote matters this go around.

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