Maness Snatches Defeat from the Jaws of Victory in Election for LA’s Disctrict 77 State Legislative Seat
Rob Maness looked to be cruising on his way to victory after the primary election for Louisiana’s 77th District seat for the State Legislature. He garnered 12% more votes than the closest of his three competitors, eventual runoff opponent Mark Wright. All he had to do was not self-destruct and the election was his. Unfortunately for Maness, that proved to be too much to ask.
It must have been a solemn night at the Maness headquarters on election night as election day voting followed the trend of early voting, as Wright turned a 12-point deficit after the primary election into an 18-point landslide defeat in just one month. Essentially, everyone who didn’t vote for either candidate in the primary voted for Wright in the runoff save for 18 people, at least in terms of net results.
That kind of massive turnaround in such a short period of time is rare in politics and usually requires some kind of unusual event to occur swaying undecided voters and perhaps even some of the primary winner’s voters as well. That happened, as did a few other key events.
For anyone interested in the science of political campaigning, the following can be used as a lesson in what to do and what not to do when campaigning for public office.
Before breaking down how we arrived at the final results, let’s review them. Shall we?
So how exactly did such a momentous shift occur in just a month?
First, Wright focused more on promoting himself as a good candidate, whereas Maness’ primary message was that he was the ‘one true conservative’, and that powerful “political insiders” were holding him back from winning an election. Thus, once the field was whittled following the primary, Wright made quick work to secure the endorsements of the other two candidates who lost in the primary but did not make the runoff.
This was a very prudent and politically intelligent move on Wright’s behalf. Maness had been adversarial with the other candidates during the primary, levying accusations and loads of innuendo. In other words, he didn’t do anything to make any friends or even give himself a chance at winning the endorsements of either of the two candidates who were eliminated following the primary, whereas Wright was poised to court their support the moment the primary results were in.
With early voting showing a trend toward wright (albeit not enough of one to change the outcome without winning big on election day too), Maness began to self destruct.
The author of this blog, a friend and supporter of Wright, and more importantly experienced campaign operative, decided to become involved with about two weeks remaining, starting with a social media campaign that went viral, locally speaking (within the district). The posts got a lot of exposure, were eloquent and completely disarmed Maness’ unfounded claims that “political insiders” were conspiring against him by claiming to be among the people Maness was referencing as “insiders” conspiring and colluding to keep him down.
The problem this posed for Maness was that this author is more popular within the district, and more highly thought of. Therefore when people saw that I’m who he’s referring to, the claim became extremely suspect – perhaps even to the extent it backfired. For the record, there were no insiders conspiring to keep Maness out of office… Except for myself, if you define me as a “political insider.” Also, in order for there to be a conspiracy you need more than one person. I guess I conspired and colluded with myself, because I acted totally independently of anyone including Wright’s campaign, save for dropping by one time to pick up door hangers, flyers and signs (typical campaign literature).
One of the Facebook posts that was extremely effective in getting inside Maness’ head was this one:
If you click “read more” and read the entire post, you an see how that might have bothered Rob just a little.
Maness actually messaged me to ask why I had posted what I had. The reason is because what I posted was accurate.
Just a few days after that post, with polling showing Wright starting to catch up to Maness’ lead, disaster happened for the Maness campaign. To make a long story short, he had a complete meltdown on live radio, in which he make comments that appeared to be insane about nuclear weapons and him being the most qualified person in history to hold the keys to America’s nuclear arsenal (not sure how that’s relevant for a Louisiana state legislator, but it gives us a glimpse into the mindset Maness was in at the time). Then he shouted obscenities at a caller (again, on live radio) five times — FIVE — before the call screener hung up on the caller. However by that time the damage was done. Nothing he said was censored and voters of the district got to see a side of one one of the men running for state legislature that he’d rather not have shown.
The Facebook posts may or may not have played a role in his radio meltdown, but my suspicion is they did. To what extent I won’t even attempt to guess.
Following the radio debacle, Maness continued digging when rather than issue a statement apologizing and saying the pressure of the campaign had gotten the better of him and that the behavior he exhibited was not indicative of who he is. However, that wasn’t what Rob had in mind. He issued this letter to the editor of a local newspaper, which had inklings of remorse, but the overwhelming theme was to attack the columnist who had written what everyone was already thinking. That certainly didn’t do anything to help undo the damage his radio tirade had done to his plummeting numbers.
In the final days of the campaign Wright received some grassroots assistance from yours truly, which is actually probably a bigger deal than it may sound on the surface. I’ve worked (as a paid campaign staff member) congressional campaigns, statewide races for U.S. Senate, and have been sought out by Congressmen seeking advice on whether or not to run for Senate. I served on Newt Gingrich’s Presidential Exploratory Committee. In southeast Louisiana, I’m as formidable a campaign asset as you’ll find, particularly with regard to grassroots.
In addition to the campaign’s own canvassing efforts, I distributed what must have been 40-50 pounds worth of door hangers and flyers, put up about 20 yard signs including in key locations along major thoroughfares. I also got a few up in some rather unconventional locations, like the wooden beams surrounding the cement structures holding up the Interstate-12 bride over the Tchefuncte River. Every boat passing under the interstate would have seen the signs. I would estimate that number of boaters at at least 1,000 between the time they were posted and the actual election.
Between the campaign astutely courting voters who cast ballots for candidates who did not make the runoff, the campaign’s effective advertising (particularly following the radio incident), grassroots efforts by the campaign and social media posts and grassroots canvassing areas that hadn’t been targeted by renegade volunteer Peter Egan, by election day the outcome was a mere formality. Mark Wright had won in an 18 point landslide, a result no one could have foreseen following the October primaries.
Why Did I Get Involved?
The reason I got involved was because I was unsure of the outcome of the election and wanted to erase that uncertainty – at least to the extent I could.
The other reason is well explained in a snippet from this article at The Hayride:
A PAC that had supported Fleming in the 2016 Senate race was behind a series of negative ads against Maness, a little retribution for him mucking up the Senate race a year prior.
I am friends with former Congressman Dr. John Fleming, MD. Rep. Fleming was not only Louisiana’s most conservative member of the delegation, he had a much better chance of beating Kennedy in a runoff (Kennedy was a lifelong democrat until a few years ago). Maness angrily refused, allowing Charles Boustany to sneak into the runoff. Boustany is a “moderate” Republican well to the left of Fleming, as is Kennedy. So Maness in essence cost the only conservative candidate in the race with a shot at winning a chance at the runoff.
My motivation was to ensure Mark Wright won first and foremost. Secondly, I wanted to do all I could to run up the score so that Rob would never be able to impact a major election (like a Senate race) and use his presence to hand the election to a wishy-washy moderate over a conservative. Whether I had any impact and if so how much, we’ll never know. What is known is that my objectives were met regardless of whether I played a substantial role in that or not.
I do not foresee Maness running for office again in Southeast Louisiana after he handed this race away by failing to maintain his composure when the pressure was on.
To be clear, I’m not taking credit for the outcome of this election. I’m not taking credit for any part of it. I did help out though and Mark and his campaign achieved the result I was hoping to see. Whether I personally played any role in the outcome and if so how much is anybody’s guess. I personally believe Mark would have won comfortably without my support and involvement.
After all, as a HayRide article about Maness’ future eloquently observed:
That seat was winnable (for Maness). But the problem was that Wright, who had been a conservative activist in St. Tammany and had served the movement’s cause for years before taking the plunge and running for the city council in Covington (in other words starting small and moving up, rather than the opposite approach Maness took), had already entered the race. Wright had already learned the retail political skills required to win a state legislative race and he was already building a coalition capable of winning.
Meanwhile, Maness’ approach was to immediately cast himself as the One True Conservative and bash Wright as a Washington lobbyist (which was a stretch; he’s vice president of American Waterway Operators, a trade organization for tugboat and barge companies) when Maness himself is a registered lobbyist, and to trash him as having made crooked deals with the state’s party establishment. That was never going to work, because Wright was a known commodity. People on the Northshore know him better than they know Rob, they know Mark is a conservative with a record of governing like one on that city council, and they like Wright better. And it especially didn’t resonate that Mark was a “career politician;” you don’t get to run for office three times in four years and call anybody else a professional politician. When you start running for office you become a politician, period. Accusing others of that when they run less often than you do simply pisses voters off.