Viewpoint: Candidates rally their supporters as early voting begins
By Danae Columbus, opinion columnist
With early voting set to start on Saturday (Sept. 30), it’s now-or-never time in this season’s campaign cycle. Many mainstream candidates in the race for governor campaigned in metro New Orleans on Tuesday (Sept. 26). Five candidates — Sharon Hewitt, Hunter Lundy, John Schroder, Stephen Waguespack and Shawn Wilson — participated in a morning forum sponsored by AARP in conjunction with The Advocate. At midday, Wilson opened the state Democratic Party headquarters in New Orleans at 1205 St. Charles Ave. He later participated in an evening forum, sponsored by Gray Television and hosted by WVUE-TV, at University of New Orleans with Waguespack
While Wilson and Waguespack were engaged in a gentlemanly discussion of pertinent issues, leading candidate Jeff Landry, who skipped the forums, was making the rounds at a decidedly down-home Cajun-style supper with more than 75 supporters at Segnette Landing in Westwego. While guests munched on shrimp, boudin and hog’s head cheese, Landry meandered through the crowd of well-wishers at a leisurely pace, kissing the ladies and posing for dozens of photos.In a poll taken by Gray Television earlier this month, Landry’s support totaled at 40% with Wilson at 24% and Waguespack at 9%.
Candidates up and down the ballot are winding up for their final pitches to voters, especially to the ever-growing number of chronic and early voters. At Tuesday’s Democratic headquarters event, Wilson was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of labor and political leaders, elected officials, and other candidates for office. State Treasurer hopeful Dustin Granger even drove in from Lake Charles. After a quick overview of his campaign themes, Wilson got right to the point: It’s time to step up as a donor and a campaign volunteer, he told attendees. If not, why are we here, Wilson mused rhetorically.
Wilson and his team are pleased with the kind of campaign they have waged. “I think some people are surprised by how well Wilson presented himself and what he had to say to the voters,” said one consultant. Team Wilson is estimating Black voters will turn out at approximately 55%. If that estimate is correct and Wilson receives another 9% from White and Latino voters, he should be assured a spot in the runoff.
What happens next is dependent upon race. The big question for Wilson is whether enough White voters – progressives, liberals, moderates – will vote in the runoff. Wilson’s people are counting on these voters to decide that Landry’s stand on issues like reproductive rights and his support of former President Donald Trump are unacceptable. “Early in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, his prospects looked dim. Then Barack arrived at the Iowa caucus, which he won with White support,” said the consultant. Wilson will need his own Iowa — and I don’t mean just the 3,436 votes in Iowa, Louisiana.
It appears that neither Waguespack nor any of the other candidates have a real chance to catch up with Wilson, let alone Landry. Landry, on the other hand, is still wishing he could wrap up the race with a victory on Oct. 14. “We’re so close,” Landry told his supper audience. “If you can get your friends and neighbors out to vote, we still have a chance.”
He is excited about the prospect of a three-month transition period to get ready for the serious tasks at hand. With so many football games taking place on election weekend, Landry urged his supporters who are big sports fans to request mail-in ballots through their Registrar of Voters.
Landry has a solid base of supporters who are not going to abandon him because of negative ads airing on TV stations across Louisiana. For those who consider Trump’s endorsement a liability, GOP leaders note that Trump is growing in the polls despite his legal issues. Don’t be surprised if The Donald makes a cameo appearance in Louisiana before Election Day.
Incumbent Billy Nungesser is still the man to beat in the race for lietenent governor. Armed with significant resources, Nungesser has bought onto numerous ballots across the state that voters will carry into the polls. None of his opponents have been able to damage Nungesser’s credibility. Democrat Willie Jones, who garnered more than 30% of the vote four years ago, has once again embarked on a grassroots campaign. Jones is relying on Black and Democratic voters to specifically seek him out on the ballot so that he can advance to the runoff.
In the race for state treasurer, former congressman and Trump Deputy Chief of Staff John Fleming is a household name in North Louisiana and endowed with abundant financial resources. He should do well in the race. Republican State Rep. Scott McKnight is a charismatic young conservative who is trying hard to move up. Democrat Dustin Granger is an enthusiastic campaigner who is working overtime to introduce himself to voters around the state despite limited resources. Granger hopes his party affiliation will lift his candidacy.
Attorney Shaun Mena and retired Lt. Col. Tammy Savoie appear to be headed to the runoff for the new House District 23 seat. Many Black elected officials consider it a minority seat and part of the effort to better represent Black voters statewide. Mena is Black and Latino. Savoie is White but has a daughter – now an adult – who is Black. Mena has years of experience in government at the national and state level, having worked for both Sen. Mary Landrieu and Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Since retiring from the military, Savoie has been singularly focused on becoming more involved in government. Though lacking Mena’s legislative experience, Savoie says she will make up for it through determination and hard work.
Also on the District 23 ballot is Pearl Ricks, a Pennsylvania native who relocated to Louisiana almost a decade ago. Ricks has been an impressive candidate, showing a command of the issues and policy positions. Candidate Byron Jefferson is also learning from the campaign experience and could run again in the future.
Well-financed newcomer Madison O’Malley, has been nipping at the heels of incumbent Rep. Mandie Landry for months. O’Malley, who at 27 would be among the youngest legislators, is counting on endorsements like the one from Gov. John Bel Edwards to take her over the top in the House District 91 race. Landry, though known as being a little difficult to work with, has a loyal following in the district. Her detractors see blood in the water and are on the attack. Landry has been an unwavering advocate for reproductive rights and a dependable voice on many other issues that impact women. If not re-elected, her energy and drive will be sorely missed.
Leon Roche appears to be headed to victory in the Criminal District Court Division I race. Roche is facing former assistant district attorney Melanie Talia, who currently leads the Police & Justice Foundation. Roche, who barely lost to Criminal District Court Judge Simone Levine last year, has racked up the majority of endorsements including that of U.S. Rep. Troy Carter. Much of Talia’s campaign has taken place below the radar screen. Roche has made significant inroads with progressives through the VOTE organization. It may be more difficult for Talia to attract diverse voters.
In-person early voting begins Saturday (Sept. 30) and ends Oct. 7. Absentee voting by mail is available through Oct. 13. Early voting takes place from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1300 Perdido; the Algiers Court House, 225 Morgan St.; the Voting Machine Warehouse, 8870 Chef Menteur Highway; and the Lake Vista Community Center, 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd. Election Day is Oct. 14.
LOUISIANA PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY TO BE HELD MARCH 23, 2024
Some political players are already looking ahead to the March 2024 elections, when Louisiana voters will select their candidates for president as well as pick new members for parish and state party committees. Also on the ballot will be one judicial race: the contest to replace Judge Veronica Henry at First City Court. Henry was recently elected to Civil District Court. Attorney and former contender Dianne Alexander already appears to be the consensus candidate for that seat.
WILL SALTWATER CRISIS EMERGENCY ALERTS BE MORE DIFFICULT TO RECEIVE WITHOUT TIKTOK?
The “ban TikTok” movement has fallen off the agenda of the Louisiana delegation in Washington, D.C. after a legislative ban of the online app favored by young adults on all state-administered networks. Even constituents who have been contacting the Louisiana senators and reps in D.C. or over the summer break report that the heat is off this issue, in part due to so many other distractions as well as efforts initiated by TikTok to calm congressional concerns about Chinese data-mining. How the state ban will influence the distribution of key emergency alerts during the feared saltwater crisis remains to be seen.
Opinion columnist Danae Columbus has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at email@example.com.