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Louisianans having fun in joyless election year

October 11, 2014

PINEVILLE, Louisiana (AP) — In what’s turned out to be a largely joyless election year, one state has upheld its reputation as a rollicking and colorful battleground, even if that’s not always intentional.

Want to see a three-term senator squirt beer into a football fan’s mouth as the fan does a “keg stand” — a handstand on a keg of beer? Come to Louisiana.

How about a crusty character trying to return to Congress after a decades-long absence? Actually, Louisiana has two such candidates, but only one spent eight years in prison.

Elsewhere in the U.S., campaigning has been marked by torrents of negative ads, numbingly familiar attacks on President Barack Obama’s health care law and millions of dispirited voters — or perhaps nonvoters.

To be sure, there is serious campaigning and high stakes in Louisiana.

Republicans’ efforts to oust Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is crucial to their goal of netting six seats to control the Senate and thwart Obama’s agenda for his remaining two years in office. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose parents were immigrants from India, isn’t on the ballot, but he’s positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2016.

Still, Louisiana is the only state where the “Duck Dynasty” reality TV stars abandoned the “kissing congressman” and made ads for a relative — that would be Zach Dasher of Ouachita Parish — who got into the 5th Congressional District race.

Candor is often missing at political events, but it flowed at a recent Chamber of Commerce forum in Pineville. Eight men running for the 5th congressional seat filled the stage.

The Green Party’s Eliot Barron explained his tardiness, saying, “I don’t know my way around Pineville.” Chamber members grimaced, but they seemed even more perplexed when he said he wants to “reintroduce big game into national parks.”

Clyde Holloway asked voters to return him to the seat he held from 1987 to 1993. He has stayed busy since then, winning election to the state’s Public Service Commission but losing bids for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress.

Holloway called for tougher immigration policies. “We ought to know every person who’s crossing our border,” he said, “whether they’re Hispanic or whether they’re Muslims or whatever.”

“I’m not politically correct,” he said, lest anyone miss his point.

The message from political neophyte Dasher, whose uncle is Phil Robertson, star of the popular Louisiana-based “Duck Dynasty” cable TV show, was largely in line with the others. He denounced “the federal takeover of our state rights and individual liberties.”

In a radio ad, Robertson says his nephew “has been officially and thoroughly vetted by the Robertson clan for 36 years.”

The Robertsons previously backed the lawmaker Dasher wants to oust, Republican Rep. Vance McAllister, who invited one of the bearded “Duck Dynasty” stars to be his guest in the U.S. Capitol for Obama’s State of the Union speech last January.

McAllister initially said he wouldn’t seek another term after a videotape showed him passionately kissing a friend’s wife who was on his congressional staff. But McAllister’s wife publicly forgave him, and he decided to run.

Speaking last at the Pineville forum, McAllister chastised those who pledged to fight Obama on every front. “You want to be extremely conservative? Then the district loses,” he said. “You have to be pragmatic” to secure grants and other benefits for constituents.

McAllister’s scandal might end his political career. But it won’t land him in prison, where Democrat Edwin Edwards spent eight years on corruption charges.

The state’s most flamboyant politician since Huey Long, Edwards served seven years in Congress, then 16 years as governor over a 24-year span. Acquitted on fraud charges in 1985, he won a 1991 election backed by signs saying “Vote for the Crook,” defeating a former leader of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.

The joke seemed less funny when Edwards entered prison in 2002.

Now 87 and campaigning with his young wife, who appeared with him in a TV reality show, and their toddler son, Edwards seeks to succeed Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is running against Landrieu for the Senate, in the 6th Congressional District.

This year, a Republican opponent has printed yard signs saying, “Don’t Vote for the Crook.”

In Louisiana’s “jungle primary,” all candidates compete on the Nov. 4 ballot, regardless of party. If no one exceeds 50 percent, the top two finishers enter a runoff.

Louisiana’s fiercely contested Senate race produces fewer chuckles, but Landrieu manages to have fun at parties in parking lots outside college football stadiums. She did a line dance, “the Wobble,” with fans at Southern University. At Louisiana State University, she indulged requests to hold the beer nozzle as a young man guzzled, upside down, during a “keg stand.”

When critics tut-tutted, Landrieu told them to “get a life. That’s how we roll.”

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Follow Charles Babington on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbabington

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