Political newcomer Vance McAllister of Swartz pulled off his second big election surprise in a row by easily defeating the early favorite in Saturday’s runoff in the 5th Congressional District.
After coming out of nowhere to finish second in the primary—and 15 points behind state Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia—McAllister thumped his fellow Republican in the runoff with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
McAllister carried the four largest parishes by wide margins and ran strong in northern, rural areas of the district. Riser won the smaller rural parishes in the southern and central regions.
“No one saw this coming,” said one political operative not aligned with either campaign. Another predicted even more surprises as data becomes available, saying, “I'll bet (McAllister) carries all major demographics when the analysis is done. He definitely cornered the anti-Jindal vote.”
John Couvillon with JMC Enterprises of Louisiana added that Ouachita and Rapides held the swing precincts. McAllister dominated both parishes. While endorsements often don’t offer enough to push a candidate over the finish line, Couvillon said McAllister owes a large debt to Public Service Commission Clyde Holloway, a Republican from Forest Hill; Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat; and the “Duck Dynasty” bunch.
All gave big nods to the businessman. Holloway and Mayo, in particular, were primary losers. “The cumulative effect of those endorsements is important,” Couvillon said. “In isolation they wouldn’t have made as much of a difference as all three together.”
While both ran on conservative platforms, McAllister took a more pragmatic approach to the Affordable Care Act and even called for expanding Medicaid to cover more uninsured low-income residents—opposing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s stance. Riser in turn attacked McAllister in direct mail and on TV regarding the health care issue.
McAllister made his stance known on Medicaid barely a week ago, during a time in campaigns when many voters start tuning out, with their decisions already made. Analysts and consultants say McAllister had already worked up a head of steam when he dropped his political bomb during Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s Nov. 8 debate. Given more time, Riser could have gained traction on his attacks, they say, but probably not enough to turn the tide.
Nonetheless, many view McAllister's Medicaid expansion comments as the turning point in the race. It may have certainly been the fuel behind Democratic turnout in certain areas, like black precincts in Ouachita Parish where McAllister earned more votes than Mayo did in the primary.
Riser was supported by all of the state’s Republican congressmen and was all but verbally endorsed by Jindal, who called the senator a good friend and “great conservative leader” while criticizing McAllister's position on the Medicaid expansion.
While Riser was the insider choice, even receiving fundraising help from U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, McAllister was still embraced by D.C. politicos Saturday evening, and rather quickly.
Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said McAllister’s fiscal positions and calls for greater accountability will be an “excellent addition to Louisiana’s delegation here in the Washington,” adding, “I look forward to working with Vance as we fight back against ObamaCare and this administration’s expensive, big-government, tax and spend policies.”
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, did the same and released the following statement: “I look forward to working with Mr. McAllister in the coming weeks and months. Throughout his campaign, Mr. McAllister emphasize that he wants to find solutions and common ground. With this desire and his business background, I know we can both work together to grow and expand the middle class in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District.”
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