Hours after political unknown Vance McAllister pulled off a startling upset Saturday night in the special election for Congress in Louisiana's 5th District, pundits and pols were scrambling to figure out how he did it — and whether a trend of "Mr. Outside" and "Miss Outside" defeating established politicians in Republican primaries has begun for 2014.
"The election of Vance McAllister to Congress in Louisiana's 5th District reflects the appeal of being an outsider in today's poisonous political environment," Mark Kennedy, former Republican congressman from Minnesota and director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, told Newsmax Sunday. "And it demonstrates the power of pop culture to influence political campaigns and the attraction of a businesslike focus on seeking results."
Kennedy was referring to the much-discussed endorsement of businessman and first-time office-seeker McAllister by his friend Phil Robertson, partriach of the "Duck Dynasty" family on the popular A&E reality show.
"'Duck Dynasty' folks voted for McAllister," former Rep. Bob Livingston, R.-La., told Newsmax, pointing out that the television series about the duck-hunting family is very popular in the Pelican State and that Phil Robertson has a home in Monroe, La., in the 5th District.
Wealthy businessman McAllister edged out fellow Republican and State Sen. Neal Riser. Both spent roughly $800,000, with McAllister using his own resources exclusively and Riser raising his campaign kitty from political action committees and individual contributors.
In a state where candidates compete on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters regardless of party face each other in a run-off if no one wins 50 percent plus one, conservative Republicans Riser and McAllister placed one-two in the initial 14-candidate balloting.
Moreover, Riser was the candidate of both the "establishment" and the "insurgents." Along with having the endorsement of former Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander (who resigned to take a position in GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal's Cabinet), Riser was backed by several tea party groups and FreedomWorks, the national conservative group that supported the recent government shutdown to defund Obamacare. Riser's campaign was run by Timmy Teepell, longtime political alter ego for Gov. Jindal.
The candidates disagreed on next to nothing. Both were strongly pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-Second Amendment, and opposed Obamacare.
The sole difference, as several published reports noted, was that Riser supported outright repeal while McAllister said repeal would not work until Republicans took the presidency and Senate and instead supported fixing the healthcare measure. A few observers speculated that this convinced some 5th District Democrats (who had no horse in the run-off) to vote for McAllister over Riser.
The Hayride, a leading newsletter on Louisiana politics, reported that McAllister actually "ran hard to the left in the runoff, got [black Democratic leader and former Rep.] Cleo Fields to do robocalls for him in Monroe, endorsed the Medicaid expansion and trashed Gov. Jindal for privatizing the Charity Hospitals…and that worked for him."
But interestingly, McAllister also had the backing of State Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, a favorite among Louisiana's cultural conservatives.
"'Duck Dynasty' may generate the headlines, but endorsements usually have little effect in most races," historian David Pietrusza, author of three much-praised books on presidential elections, told Newsmax. "In any case, McCallister's hefty victory margin suggests a lot more was going on than that. Also, Riser was less of a lock that many might have surmised. He secured only 32 percent in the first round. Recall Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz last year. Dewhurst garnered 45 percent in the first round of their Senate primary but Cruz walloped him by 14 points in the runoff."
The outcome in Louisiana was not unlike that of several House primaries in 2012, in which established incumbents with conservative records were nevertheless defeated by primary foes with no record in elective office. Veteran GOP Reps. Cliff Stearns of Florida and John Sullivan of Oklahoma, both strong conservatives, were defeated for renomination by veterinarian Ted Yoho and Navy aviator Jim Bridenstine respectively.
In 2014, Michigan Republican Reps. Kerry Bentivolio and Justin Amash face primary opponents who have not held office before. Eight-termer Lee Terry of Nebraska also faces a challenge from an outsider. All three lawmakers have strong conservative records.
Whether the outcome in Louisiana of "Mr. Outside" beating the "name" candidate portends similar primaries in the future will be one of the telling moments of the 2014 campaign.
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