Democrat surprises observers by making secretary of state runoff
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Democratic candidate Gwen Collins-Greenup reached the December runoff in Louisiana’s secretary of state race with little money for advertising and no backing from her party, emerging as the state’s Election Night surprise.
Still, Collins-Greenup faces difficult odds to win the office in the Dec. 8 showdown against Republican Kyle Ardoin, who’s working as interim secretary of state until voters elect someone to the position.
GOP candidates combined received support from 61 percent of voters in Tuesday’s open primary, suggesting Ardoin has the advantage heading into the final four weeks of the campaign.
Democratic Party leaders, meanwhile, were struggling to explain how Collins-Greenup reached the runoff at all, instead of the party’s endorsed contender, Renee Fontenot Free, a top aide to two former secretaries of state.
“I think there’s a lot of us scratching our heads trying to see what happened there,” Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said Wednesday.
Collins-Greenup, a lawyer and notary from the small East Feliciana Parish town of Clinton, raised less than $3,000 for the race and spent the small sum on her qualifying fee, website registration, signs and campaign push cards. She did no widespread advertising.
But the Democrat traveled the state attending candidate forums and small events, speaking to whatever groups invited her and seeking support among African-American voters who make up the base of Louisiana’s Democratic Party.
Handwerk praised Collins-Greenup and said party leaders have reached out to offer her runoff assistance, though she hadn’t yet responded by midday Wednesday. Collins-Greenup also didn’t return calls or a text message from The Associated Press and hadn’t posted on her social media sites since reaching the runoff.
“At the end of the day, we have a young, incredibly smart woman who made it into the runoff, surprising almost everyone, and we’re excited about what that says for the future,” Handwerk said.
The special election competition will fill the remaining year of the term of Republican Tom Schedler, who resigned in May amid allegations he sexually harassed an employee. The secretary of state oversees elections, state archives and business registrations.
The primary race was crowded, with nine little-known candidates and limited donor interest. The candidate who raised and spent the most money — Republican state Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner — finished fifth.
Stokes spent more than $430,000 ahead of the primary, including some of her own money, according to campaign finance reports filed so far, while Ardoin spent at least $210,000. The two Republicans were the most well-financed and were the heaviest TV advertisers in the race.
Ardoin was Schedler’s top aide. Though he’s only worked in the top job a few months, Ardoin ran as an incumbent, suggesting in his advertising that he’s been leading the office for nearly a decade, without mentioning he was first assistant during most of the time.
On his Facebook page Wednesday, Ardoin told supporters of other candidates that “I hope to earn your trust and support in the runoff. I’m proud of the positive campaign we ran and I’m proud of the job our office is doing. This race is FAR from over!”
Ardoin and Collins-Greenup each made the runoff with 20 percent of the vote.