Little time in crowded 5th Dist. race

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The field of candidates for Louisiana’s surprise fall congressional election is set, and the contenders have limited time to try to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

The 14 men who jumped into the race had fewer than two weeks to decide whether they thought they had a shot at winning the seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, the state’s senior congressman.

Now, they have eight weeks to pull together campaigns, hit the airwaves and speech circuit and knock on doors pitching themselves to voters before the Oct. 19 election.

“We’re just going to raise money, do the best we can and try to get our message out,’’ said state Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, one of the candidates on the ballot.

That’s no easy feat in a district that covers all or part of 24 parishes.

The 5th District includes at least part of every parish that runs along the Mississippi state line from East Carroll Parish in the northeast down to East and West Feliciana parishes in the Baton Rouge area and over to Washington Parish in the Florida Parishes of the state’s far eastern corner.

The seat represents constituents in four television markets.

“A short race in a district as big as this district is, it’s not fair to the candidates running,’’ said candidate Clyde Holloway, a Republican member of the Public Service Commission and former congressman. “It’s a hard district.’’

The tight calendar also means that the district’s 481,000 registered voters get little time to vet the candidates, review their platforms and sift through the rhetoric before deciding who they believe would best represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Deep policy discussions would seem nearly impossible with such a small window of time before election day.

Besides Morris and Holloway, also on the crowded ballot are state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia; state Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe; state Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville; Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat; Weldon Russell, a Democrat and former state lawmaker from Amite; and Henry Herford Jr., a Libertarian from Delhi.

Candidates with substantial name recognition have the best shot, as they do in any election.

But several well-known contenders think Riser got an unfair advantage, and they’ve accused Alexander and Jindal of trying to orchestrate the congressman’s exit and the election schedule to help Riser win the seat, an allegation all three men deny.

The sequence of events does raise some eyebrows.

Alexander announced in early August that he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2014, citing partisan gridlock in Congress. A day later, Alexander was tapped to be Gov. Bobby Jindal’s new veterans affairs secretary, with plans to leave Congress in September.

Jindal set the election dates, and Riser immediately announced plans to run for Alexander’s soon-to-be vacant congressional seat.

Within days, Riser had lined up endorsements from three Republican members of Louisiana’s six-member congressional delegation: U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, John Fleming and Steve Scalise. And he was up quickly with a campaign website and staff.

Riser also had traveled with Alexander and appeared at the congressman’s various events around the district for months before Alexander made public his plan to leave Congress.

“I think they’ve been orchestrating this for months. Neil’s had the chance to raise money and travel with Rodney through the district,’’ Holloway said.

Riser said his attendance at events well outside of his state Senate district happened because he’s planned for more than a year to run for Congress whenever Alexander left office. He said he had no idea when that might be, finding out when everyone else did that the congressional race would come sooner rather than later.

Whether the timeline was rigged or not, the allegations have given Riser’s opponents a point of attack that could create headaches for him on the campaign trail and only seemed to lengthen the list of candidates seeking the office.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.