BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The attack ads began more than a year before voters will decide whether to keep U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu for a fourth term or oust her. And the next 11 months promise a bombardment of outside advertising unlike what Louisiana voters have seen in past campaigns.
If that's not enough politicking, candidates already are lining up to run for statewide elected offices not on the ballot until 2015, with open seats for governor and lieutenant governor up for grabs.
The start of the new year brings with it a two-year cycle of non-stop, statewide campaigning among Louisiana's politicians and politician wannabes - and that's not even counting Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's maneuvering for a potential 2016 White House bid.
Traditionally, interest in Louisiana's U.S. Senate and congressional races takes a little while to get going, with voters' attention shifting to the races and campaign ads blanketing the airwaves much closer to Labor Day, a couple months before a November election.
But with Landrieu seen as a vulnerable target for Republicans and hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to outside, national groups with few limits on campaign spending, the landscape in Louisiana's elections may be shifting, even if voters have to be taken along by force.
TV ads and online videos slamming Landrieu, mainly for her support of President Barack Obama's health care law, have been running for several months. Though the election isn't until Nov. 4, Landrieu even dipped into her campaign account in December to launch her first TV spot of the campaign cycle, trying to defend herself against the attacks.
The Democratic senator faces at least three Republican challengers so far: U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, state Rep. Paul Hollis and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, backed by some tea party groups.
Louisiana's six U.S. House districts also will be on the November ballot. Cassidy's bid for the Senate seat leaves opens a congressional seat, representing the Baton Rouge-based 6th District, with a list of possible contenders eyeing the position.
Meanwhile, Louisiana's newest congressman, Republican Vance McAllister, is expected to face challengers in his re-election effort in the 5th District since he will have been in office for less than a year.
The state's other entrenched congressmen appear less likely to face serious opposition so far in their efforts to hold onto their elected posts.
While outside political attention on Louisiana centers nearly entirely on the Senate race, political watchers inside the state are spending just as much time, if not more, tracking the jockeying over the 2015 slate of statewide races.
The Oct. 24, 2015, ballot will include all seven statewide elected positions.
With Jindal term-limited and unable to run for governor again, the state's top elected job is available, and the implications of who enters that race could create a domino effect that removes incumbents from other positions on the ballot.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter plans to decide this month whether he'll run for governor. He'd make a formidable candidate, and his announcement is expected to influence who else jumps in the race or stays out of it.
No matter what Vitter decides, Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne has said he intends to run for governor, along with Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Others eyeing the race include Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy. Speculation also persists that Democratic New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu could enter the fray, after he wraps up his more immediate campaign for re-election to his current job.
With Dardenne in the governor's race, the lieutenant governor's seat is open without an entrenched incumbent. At least two candidates already have announced, and several other officials facing looming term limits are suggesting they're interested.
If Kennedy also decides to try for the governor's seat, that would open the treasurer's race to more candidates. Kennedy is Louisiana's longest-serving statewide elected official. He hasn't had opposition for the treasurer's job since the first time he ran for the post.
After a relatively quiet election season in 2013, Louisiana voters should brace themselves for an onslaught of politicking over the next two years.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.
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Posted on Tue, January 7, 2014