Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE is going to lose.

The Republican nominee’s presidential campaign is in a fiery freefall, and his once-slim chances at victory are now non-existent. With allegations of sexual misconduct emerging by the hour, the major question has now become how many seats the disaster dubbed the “Trumpocalypse” will cost Republicans in Congress.

According to almost all political prognosticators, the GOP should hold onto the seat soon to be vacated by Senator David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBottom line Bottom line The biggest political upsets of the decade MORE without much of a problem. In deep Red Louisiana, that would normally be a safe bet. However, if the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that this is far from a normal election cycle. So, Democrats might be poised to make a move in the Pelican State.

In a quirk befitting Louisiana’s unique political history, every candidate hoping to replace Vitter — and there’s a mind-boggling 24 of them — will all face off on the same ballot on Election Day, each vying for a coveted top-two finish to earn a spot in the December runoff. Normally, we see one Republican and one Democrat emerge from this “jungle primary.” However, in a year like this, anything is possible, including a scenario that pits two Democrats against each other in the runoff.

By almost all measures, the Democratic pseudo-primary in this race has been a trainwreck — a dogfight between anointed frontrunner Foster Campbell and insurgent outsider Caroline Fayard.

Campbell has the backing of most of the state’s Democratic establishment. He is a member of the Public Service Commission, and his experience has earned him endorsements from the AFL-CIO and nearly every major black political organization in the state, as well as Gov. John Bel Edwards, who defeated Vitter in last year’s gubernatorial election.

Fayard, an attorney and one-time candidate for lieutenant governor, has run an insurgent but erratic campaign fueled by her father’s considerable wealth and the New Orleans-based political operation left behind by former Senator Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuA decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ MORE, who lost her bid for reelection in 2014.

She represents the left-wing of Louisiana’s Democratic Party and has not bowed to intense pressure to drop out in favor of her more conservative counterpart.

Throughout the campaign, Campbell dogged Fayard for her lack of political experience and questioned her electability in a conservative state like Louisiana. In recent weeks, his campaign has turned to attacking Fayard and her prominent trial lawyer father, Calvin Fayard, with allegations of racism and financial misdealings.

For her part, Fayard has responded by characterizing Campbell as a product of the state’s “good ol’ boy” political culture and painting him as a career politician. She has also attacked Campbell for refusing to publicly support Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE in the presidential race and tossed not-so- subtle accusations of sexism his way.

Mostly, however, the real fight has been between operatives and supporters of both sides, exposing the underlying divisions that scar Louisiana’s Democratic coalition — black v. white, conservative v. liberal, black v. white, and many more.

To win in Louisiana, Democrats must normally unite behind a single candidate — usually a conservative populist — and avoid a primary fight altogether. We saw this model work in 2015 with Edwards, and many Democrats hoped to replicate that success this year. However, it soon became clear that Campbell would have to fight for the chance to represent the Democratic side in the runoff — and fight he has, in what has devolved into a battle that is testing the tenuous strength of the state’s Democratic Party.

There’s really no doubt that Donald Trump will carry Louisiana on Election Day. However, how he wins will largely determine the outcome of this Senate race. With two viable Democrats duking it out on one side and five Republicans on the other mired in their own problems, it’s hard to predict what will happen. 

Although, here are two possible scenarios: First, as Trump implodes at the top of the ballot, Republican elected officials from across the country are rolling back their endorsements of the man seen by many as a sexual predator. In response, Trump’s hardcore supporters have threatened to ignore down-ballot races in November, acting out of spite to punish a GOP that does not stand with its nominee. Second, many Republicans — the McCain and Romney voters of elections past — might be tempted to avoid this election entirely, seeing such a dissatisfying choice before them that they will stay home rather than vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton.

If either of these nightmare scenarios come to fruition, we could very well be looking at a two-Democrat runoff here in Louisiana — a situation that no one could have predicted and one for which Republicans would only have themselves to blame.

Noah Bryant Ballard is a Baton Rouge-based political operative and former Statehouse reporter in Louisiana. You can find him on Twitter at @NoahhhBallard.


 

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