It's difficult to imagine an election drawing a larger field than the Kentucky Derby, but the 24 candidates vying to succeed David Vitter as Louisiana's next U.S. senator easily eclipse the Derby's usual array of 20 thoroughbreds. It's gonna be one helluva stretch run on Nov. 8.
That may be an unfair comparison. The hopefuls lining up to be our next junior senator could hardly be described as thoroughbreds, though some have more impressive resumes (and track records) than others.
Good luck to anyone trying to handicap the Senate race. With a field this large — and the candidacy of neo-Nazi David Duke, not to mention a divisive presidential campaign — anything is possible. The Dec. 10 runoff could see the typical Republican-Democrat showdown, or it could present us with two Democrats, or two Republicans, or one wild card "other" party or no-party candidate. When it comes to polls, recall that early voter surveys showed Vitter a runaway favorite to win the governor's race last year. Look how that turned out.
Here's why anything's possible: At least nine candidates have some name recognition. Of those, six are Republican, two are Democrat and one is independent (though his appeal is "conservative").
The leading Republicans are state Treasurer John Kennedy of Zachary, U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany of Lafayette and John Fleming of Minden, former Congressman Joseph Cao of New Orleans, retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness of Madisonville, and Duke. Kennedy has run statewide several times (including two failed races for Senate — once as a liberal Democrat and once as a conservative Republican), as has Maness, who finished third against former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014. Duke also has run statewide, but never successfully. Kennedy leads the GOP pack in the early polls, but he'll likely be targeted by other Republicans in the primary.
The leading Democrats are Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Shreveport, who has Gov. John Bel Edwards' support, and attorney Caroline Fayard, who ran a respectable race for lieutenant governor in 2010. They already are locking horns.
The most well-known independent is former state Sen. Troy Hebert, who was a Republican in the Legislature. Though he is running as an independent, he has embraced Donald Trump, which makes him a virtual Republican.
The lesser-known candidates are Democrats, Republicans, other parties and no parties — and collectively they could easily garner up to 10 percent of the vote on Nov. 8. That leaves 90 percent of the vote to be divided among two Democrats and seven Republicans (one of whom is nominally independent).
Last year, Edwards got 40 percent in the gubernatorial primary. In 2012, Barack Obama got 41 percent in Louisiana. If Campbell and Fayard get about that much, the six conservative candidates will fight for roughly 50 percent of the vote — and one will need 20 percent or more to make the Dec. 10 runoff.
Don't be surprised if we have a photo finish on Nov. 8.