Novice wins Louisiana 5 runoff election

Businessman Vance McAllister, running as an anti-establishment outsider, defeated Neil Riser, a candidate backed by Freedom Works and the Tea Party of Louisiana, in a special election to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Rodney Alexander.

It was a curious race. Riser was not only backed by the local Tea Party, he was endorsed by the #2 GOP leader in the House Eric Cantor. McAllister got the endorsement of "Duck Dynasty" stars Phil and Willie Robertson while boasting he had never even visited Washington, D.C.

What's more, McAllister commited the sacrilege of coming out in favor of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. The fact that he got 60% of the vote is a head scratcher, considering all the problems associated with Obamacare.


McAllister campaigned as a social and fiscal conservative. But the college dropout, whose business interests range from oilfield technology to fast-food franchises, also pledged to return some civility to the nation's capital and positioned himself slightly to the left of Riser.

He argued that Louisiana should accept the Medicaid expansion called for in the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform effort.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, has refused to accept the expansion that would be fully financed by the federal government for three years and then subject to a 10 percent state match.

"What a blessing," McAllister told supporters in a victory speech that echoed his campaign's populist tone. "It's gonna be fun. I guess Fox News, get ready. Sometimes the truth ain't what you want to hear, but it's what you're going to get."

Alluding to the race's at-times negative tone, he said his election is proof that "you don't have to be ugly and nasty and tell lies and make up stories. You can be who you are."


Riser agreed with the governor's stance to reject the Medicaid expansion.

As a state senator, Riser authored a Louisiana constitutional amendment requiring any state gun restrictions to pass the "strict scrutiny" test. The funeral home owner was the contest's early favorite with backing from the conservative Tea Party of Louisiana and the national group FreedomWorks, which is aligned with the Tea Party movement.

The 5th District stretches from the Arkansas border south to the outer edges of the New Orleans area. It has a higher rate of poverty than the national average and more 35 percent of residents are black.

Joshua Stockley, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said McAllister's big win signaled that the hard-line stance of some Republicans has limits.

"Republicans will not become a majority party or a governing party with the simple message of defund Obamacare, defund Obamacare, defund Obamacare," he said. "The voters of the 5th District appeared to repudiate that theme."

"Clearly the endorsements of Phil and Willie Robertson made a lot of voters feel better" about their attraction to his candidacy, Stockley said.

Riser had trounced a 13-candidate field in the non-partisan primary in October, getting twice as many votes as McAllister. But the Duck Dynasty endorsements proved pivotal. The show is filmed in the district.

The race highlighted the anti-incumbent, anti-establishment mood the electorate is in at this moment. Cantor's endorsement of Riser can be seen in retrospect as a mistake. Any taint from Washington is electoral poison at this point, and the homespun Robertsons are about as far from being Washington insiders as you can get.

It's hard to draw lessons a year away from mid terms from one race. But all GOP candidates should study this contest to get an idea of how to attract voters who appear to be in no mood to continue business as usual in Washington.


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