BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race finally arrived on TV screens this month.
An onslaught of advertising is aimed at trying to draw eyeballs to a candidate or against others in a race with two dozen people vying for the open seat and limited ways to distinguish even among the top contenders.
Not surprisingly, many candidates are calling foul play on the attack ads against them.
The TV advertising ahead of the Nov. 8 election mainly is coming from five candidates in the race: Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, Democratic lawyer and businesswoman Caroline Fayard, Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming and Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy.
The seat is open because Republican Sen. David Vitter isn’t running for re-election. All candidates regardless of party run against each other on the November ballot, and if no one receives more than 50 percent support, the top two vote-getters advance to the runoff.
The contenders are trying to introduce themselves to voters while also stripping support from opponents they believe could be most likely to keep them from a runoff. With 24 people on the ballot, the support needed to reach the Dec. 10 runoff could be in the low double digits, and polls show only a few percentage points separate the top candidates.
The race has shaped up as two mini-primaries, one a brawl between Republicans Boustany, Fleming and Kennedy, and the other an increasingly bitter clash between Democrats Campbell and Fayard.
Kennedy’s TV spots center on him, with the treasurer talking to the camera and describing his beliefs. In one ad, Kennedy wraps up by saying: “I believe that love is the answer, but you ought to own a handgun just in case.”
He doesn’t mention his opponents. But Kennedy doesn’t need to hit them with his own advertising, because a super PAC supporting his candidacy is doing that for him, putting out ads that have taken aim at both Boustany and Fleming.
One of ESAFund’s TV spots says Boustany voted to send billions of tax dollars to countries that are “breeding grounds for terrorists.” An attack ad against Fleming says the tea party-aligned congressman believes the United States doesn’t have enough people living here illegally because the country needs more workers.
Both Boustany and Fleming say the super PAC ads are untrue, distortions of votes and speeches. The GOP congressmen blame Kennedy for the advertising, even though the treasurer is unable legally to coordinate with the super PAC.
Fleming and Boustany say Kennedy shuffled money he raised to run for state treasurer to the PAC’s account, to sidestep prohibitions on using state fundraising dollars for a federal race. So, they say he’s accountable for what ESAFund is saying.
“John Kennedy cannot claim ignorance about the ESAFund’s lies. He is their largest single donor. He holds responsibility for the lies they peddle,” Fleming spokesman Matt Beynon said in a statement.
Kennedy said he had nothing to do with the PAC’s targets or the content of the attacks.
The “organization is a well-respected, national conservative group. My campaign has no control over what they do or don’t do, or what ads they run,” Kennedy said in a statement.
In response, Boustany is airing a campaign ad featuring shipbuilder Calvin Leleux, who says he’s switched his support from Kennedy to Boustany. A second Boustany ad focuses on the congressman’s background as a heart surgeon.
Fleming, meanwhile, hits both Boustany and Kennedy in one of his ads, suggesting the two men are the equivalent of junior high school students in a food fight and Fleming’s the real grown-up in the race.
Between the two major Democratic contenders, Campbell and Fayard are trying to draw distinctions even as they champion similar policy points, such as increasing the minimum wage and enacting equal pay protections.
TV spots run by Campbell’s campaign criticize Fayard’s Wall Street background, saying she worked for a company that “helped crash the economy” and “cheated investors.” They slam her family’s donations to Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal. They say Fayard “can’t be trusted.”
Fayard’s campaign struck back with an ad slamming Campbell as a career politician who is too heavily focused on attacking Fayard and her family, “while Caroline’s focused on issues that matter to us.”
The advertising is only expected to intensify in the final three weeks ahead of the election.
This story has been corrected to show that Fleming hit both Boustany and Kennedy in his ad. Not Boustany and Flemming.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte
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