Businessman wins 5th District seat
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Call it the “Duck Dynasty” bump.
Support from the bearded men of the popular reality TV show combined with a deep pool of personal wealth helped vault Republican political newcomer Vance McAllister into Congress. He’ll represent Louisiana’s 5th District.
McAllister crushed GOP state Sen. Neil Riser, the establishment candidate and presumed front-runner, in a special runoff election Saturday, winning the vacant U.S. House seat by 20 percentage points.
A political unknown only three months ago, McAllister managed to distinguish himself among a pack of 14 candidates, including six elected officials, to get into the runoff with little outside help, no prior name recognition and no heavyweight fundraising.
His entire candidacy caught political insiders by surprise.
After the results were tallied, McAllister credited his win to “being real and being true. People were ready for something different.”
The backing of the “Duck Dynasty” family — McAllister knows family patriarch Phil Robertson from church — drew initial attention to a campaign that otherwise could have been overlooked. Members of the family appeared in TV ads and held fundraisers.
“It helped to boost his name recognition. It helped to solidify confidence in voters who were already leaning toward him,” said Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
But Stockley also cautioned against giving too much credit to the “Duck Dynasty” men for McAllister’s win: “It is a factor, but it is one of many factors. That endorsement alone did not win this election for Vance McAllister, but it certainly helped Vance McAllister.”
McAllister ran as a political outsider, capitalizing on voter frustration with politicians and Congress. As a point of pride during the campaign, McAllister said he’d never been to Washington.
A funeral home owner and close ally of Gov. Bobby Jindal, Riser campaigned on his experience in the Legislature and with the support of tea party groups. He was strident in his opposition to the policies of President Barack Obama.
McAllister, while also disagreeing with Obama’s positions on most issues, offered a more pragmatic approach to governing than Riser’s strict conservatism.
“I’m representing the whole district. I got Democrats, I got Republicans and I got independent votes. I think that’s what we got to get this country back to is representing everybody. I’m going to stick to my conservative values, but we’ve got to work together,” he said.
While Riser supported only repeal of the federal health overhaul, McAllister said repeal had no chance with Democrats leading the Senate and White House, so he said Congress should work to improve the law. McAllister also supported expansion of Louisiana’s Medicaid program to give insurance to the working poor, an expansion that Riser opposed.
The positions put McAllister at odds with tea party supporters but generated support from Democrats who had no candidate of their own in the runoff.
McAllister will represent a largely rural district along the Mississippi River delta dotted with farmland and plagued by poverty. The 5th District covers all or part of 24 parishes, from northeast and central Louisiana into southeastern parishes bordering Mississippi.
The congressional seat was vacant because Republican Rodney Alexander decided to leave Washington in the middle of his sixth term and take a job in Jindal’s administration. In the race to succeed him, Alexander supported Riser.
McAllister spent at least $800,000 of his own money on the race, according to the Federal Election Commission. A self-made millionaire, he owns several businesses, including a pipeline construction company, an oil and gas exploration company, Subway fast food franchises, and a company that promotes mixed martial arts and wrestling events.