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One last time: Bayou State casts ballots Saturday

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 04: Foster Campbell, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Louisiana, greets voters in downtown Baton Rouge, La., November 4, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
Foster Campbell is the last man standing for disappointed Democrats who want to get the party’s numbers in the Senate to 49. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

BY: JACK NOLAND

With the spectacle of the post-election presidential transition taking center stage, it’s easy to forget there’s still a U.S. Senate race pending.

Under the Bayou State’s unique system, all 24 Senate candidates appeared on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. None received a majority, so on Saturday the top two vote-getters will face off: Republican John Kennedy, the state’s treasurer since 2000, and Democrat Foster Campbell, a Louisiana public service commissioner.

Though the seat will not determine control of the upper chamber of Congress – Republicans already have 51 seats – the runoff election presents Democrats with the opportunity to turn another seat blue and grow their ranks to 49, which might prove crucial in contentious legislative or confirmation battles.

So far, though, the Republican has held a fairly comfortable lead on all counts. Through November 20, Kennedy outstripped Campbell in both fundraising and spending, relying almost exclusively on large-dollar contributions. Outside spending, too, has tilted Kennedy’s way.

Even in the crowded field, neither of the remaining candidates led the pack in fundraising before the general election. Even now, they’re only second and fourth, with Kennedy leading. The candidate who raised the most money, Republican Rep. Charles Boustany, Jr., took in more than $5.1 million and finished with 15.4 percent of the vote, right behind Campbell.

Both remaining candidates have stepped up their fundraising efforts since the general election, however, and were very close in the money race through Nov. 20. Kennedy had collected a total of more than $4.3 million, barely outstripping the $4.25 million his rival has pulled in in contributions and loans. Campbell, however, has the edge in cash on-hand, at over $1.4 million, $71,565 more than Kennedy has in reserve. The Republican has spent almost $3 million to date.

Perhaps the most striking difference between the two candidates is in the breakdown of their contributions by size. Nearly 87 percent of Kennedy’s money has come from donors giving more than $200 – almost $3.8 million total. Campbell’s donor distribution is a little more diverse: Forty percent of his cash has come from individuals giving less than $200, and 39 percent from larger-dollar donors.

And since Nov. 8, a chasm has developed between the two candidates in terms of donor geography. Whereas earlier, both were getting the vast majority of their funds from within Louisiana, a spot check of 48-hour contribution reports candidates must file during the period shortly before an election suggests that’s no longer the case. Though the reports include only gifts of $1,000 or more so don’t give us a complete picture, the vast majority of donors listed on Campbell’s forms live out-of-state — in Florida, California, Wisconsin, Texas, New York, Colorado and elsewhere.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election predictor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, argued that Campbell could be benefiting from Democrats being thwarted at the presidential level.

“Distraught Democrats may be giving to him as an outlet for their frustrations over Clinton’s loss in the presidential race,” Kondik said in an interview with OpenSecrets Blog.

The 48-hour reports show, too, that corporate PACs — including those of Microsoft, Verizon and Koch Industries — have been anteing up for Kennedy in a big way.

Outside spending groups, including Ending Spending Action Fund, Defend Louisiana and the Louisiana Prosperity Fund, have spent close to $1 million in the faceoff, but far more of it has benefited Kennedy than Campbell: $631,812 has supported Kennedy’s campaign and just $285,445 has gone to help Campbell.

In the end, it may not matter that Campbell has more money left in the bank. Kennedy, who beat the rest of the field in the open general election by 8 percentage points, has consistently led his Democratic opponent in the polls. A South Media & Opinion Research poll conducted at the end of November found the Republican ahead by a margin of 52 to 38. If interest has blossomed in the race, it has not spawned a dash to the polls as of yet: early runoff voting saw lower turnout than normal.

While Trump easily won Louisiana in November, Democrats may take hope in the fact that the state elected a Democratic governor just last year, though Sen. David Vitter, the Republican nominee in that election, was mired in a prostitution scandal. The dynamics appear to be different this time.

“All of the metrics one could look at – the breakdown of early voting, what the polls say, and the intrinsic partisanship of the state,” Kondik said, “suggest that Kennedy is a favorite.”

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