Neil Riser in U.S. rep. runoff

Published 12:12 am Sunday, October 20, 2013

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A Republican political newcomer will face off with a GOP state senator in November to determine who will be Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District representative, as voters Saturday whittled down a field of 14 candidates.

Vance McAllister, a businessman who self-funded his campaign, and Neil Riser, a second-term lawmaker, will compete in the Nov. 16 election.

Concordia Parish voters also renewed Saturday a 10-year, 13-mill tax levied by the school district.

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With all 25 precincts reporting, the unofficial results of the election had 65.35 percent of voters casting ballots for the measure — a total of 1,758 votes — approving the tax renewal, while 34.65 percent of voters — 932 — voted against it.

The millage is used to support the school district’s debt service and for salary supplements. It was last renewed in 2004.

Riser was the top vote-getter in Saturday’s Congressional primary election, taking in one-third of the votes, but fell far short of the more than 50 percent of votes he needed to win outright.

In a surprise twist, McAllister beat a field crowded with elected officials to take the second runoff spot after pouring his own money into the race.

“I knew we worked hard. I did everything I could do, and it was in the Good Lord’s hands,” McAllister said Saturday night. “I’m kind of at a loss for words. I’m speechless. It’s humbling to do know that this many people in this district can believe in somebody like that.”

The special election was called when Rodney Alexander announced in August that he was resigning to take a job with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.

Riser and McAllister beat five other elected officials vying for the runoff spot: Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, a Republican; state Rep. Marcus Hunter, a Democrat; state Rep. Robert Johnson, a Democrat; Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat; and state Rep. Jay Morris, a Republican.

With a huge geographical district and only two months of campaign time, candidates struggled simply to distinguish themselves and drum up name recognition. The sprawling district covers all or part of 24 parishes, from northeast and central Louisiana into the southeast.

Riser, a lawmaker since 2008 and owner of a funeral home business, had been considered the front-runner throughout the race and raised the most cash for his campaign. He is from Columbia.

Because Riser got his campaign running so quickly, he’s been accused of behind-the-scenes collusion with Alexander and Gov. Bobby Jindal to rig the election schedule in his favor. All three deny the claim.

The 5th District seat is open because Alexander, a Republican who had been in office more than a decade, resigned from Congress before his term was up. He has taken a job in Jindal’s administration.

Alexander announced his resignation plans in August, and Jindal quickly set a special election.

Riser immediately announced plans to run for the congressional seat. Within days, he had lined up endorsements from members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation, and he soon hired Jindal’s top political strategist and chief fundraiser to work on his campaign.

Holloway and Morris criticized the sequence of events and tried to distinguish themselves from Riser by highlighting their independence from the governor.

Besides the dispute over Riser’s perceived advantage, the messages of Riser, Holloway and Morris didn’t differ that much. The men highlighted themselves as conservatives who oppose the policies of President Obama and want to shrink federal spending.

McAllister, who estimated he spent $400,000 of his own money on the race, ran as a political outsider and self-made businessman who could bring common sense to Washington, D.C. “They’re ready for somebody who’s real,” he said.

Among the three Democratic elected officials, Mayo and Hunter had the more traditional Democratic positions of supporting the federal health overhaul and other social safety net programs. Johnson positioned himself as a socially conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat, opposed to abortion and a proud member of the National Rifle Association.

The district is majority Democrat, but its voters tend to choose Republican candidates in national races.