Editor’s note: Big Easy Magazine hosted Ms. Dugas, Mr. Francis, and Dr. Savoie at our October 22 progressive candidate forum. We received interest from the candidates in hosting a formal debate with all 1st district candidates. We contacted the Scalise campaign with an invitation, to which we received no response.
Corrections have been made to reflect Dr. Savoie’s education and length of military servce.
This week, in honor of the electoral battle for the House of Representatives, Big Easy Magazine took a look at the Congressional race for Louisiana’s First District.
Louisiana’s First Congressional District is mostly made up of the areas that surround New Orleans, which have a far higher percentage of white and conservative residents than the inner city of New Orleans. It is ranked as a strongly red district and is far more conservative than the national average. It extends from north of the lake to the very bottom of the swiftly-vanishing “boot” of Louisiana. The district surrounds New Orleans but does not include the most of the city.
Steve Scalise (R) has represented Louisiana’s First Congressional District for four years (he assumed office in 2014). Prior to that, he served in the Louisiana House of Representatives. In his own words, he is a “pro-Trump conservative,” and one of “Trump’s strongest allies in Congress.” He is also the House Majority Whip, the third highest position in the Republican House of Representatives’ delegation. Scalise has an A+ rating from the NRA, and even though he himself was a victim at the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting, he has come out against any restrictions to gun ownership. He’s even appeared on Meet the Press to defend this position after the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017.
He is also a proponent of the US/Mexican border wall and of the Muslim ban, and “accidentally” spoke at a white supremacist event in 2002 while serving as a state representative. He claims to not have known the group’s affiliation at the time. However, he once referred to himself as “David Duke without the baggage,” implying that he follows the same political philosophy and holds many of the same ideals as the white supremacist and former Klansman who once ran for governor of Louisiana.
One of Scalise’s top opponents is Dr. Tammy Savoie (D). She is a member of the inaugural class of Emerge Louisiana, an organization with chapters across the country that is set up to give people who identify as women the tools they need to run for publicly-elected office. She is a single mother and a veteran who first spent 15 years in the Louisiana National Guard, and then served 23 years on active duty in the Air Force. During her time in the military, Dr. Savoie was deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. She also worked to form the first military-civilian Critical Incident Stress Team. In her platform, she advocates for protections for coastal ecosystems, and “broad access to affordable health care,” though on her website she does not say whether or not she supports a single-payer option.
Lee Ann Dugas (D) is a third candidate running for Congress and is also an Army veteran. She is a hunter who supports common-sense gun restrictions such as reinstating the assault rifle ban and creating a registry of gun ownership nationwide. She also supports raising the minimum wage nationally to $15/hr (the current minimum wage is the one we have here in Louisiana, $7.25/hour) and reintroducing the Equal Rights Amendment. She also wants to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and to make sure all families who have been unlawfully separated by ICE are reunited immediately.
Jim Francis (D), a fourth candidate running for Congress, has made both protecting Louisiana’s coastal ecosystems and making corporations pay larger taxes focal issues in his campaign. Unlike the other candidates, he is not from Louisiana; he attended college in Akron, OH. Like Savoie, he has included access to health care as a major issue in his campaign, and he has explicitly endorsed a “Medicare for all plan,” which is the single-payer option Bernie Sanders endorsed during his presidential run.
Let’s talk money
To review the amount raised by each candidate, and to examine the sources of the funding, Big Easy Magazine analyzed the reports last submitted by each candidate to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Scalise has the heftiest pot of money so far, at $9,592,807. Of this incredible total, he has spent $8,049,898. The largest chunk of donations came through the Nonpartisan VoteSane PAC which, according to the FEC report for 2017-2018, garnered Scalise $108,000 total. The PAC is a nonpartisan “conduit” PAC that allows donors to earmark funds to a candidate. Overall, Scalise’s itemized donations came from older donors, many of whom were not residents of Louisiana. These donors also tended to give more per donation than contributors to the other campaigns. Scalise also received money this cycle from the Crawford Group, which in 2016 gave $1,516,566 to Republican campaigns across the country. According to money tracking non-profit opensecret.org, Scalise took over one million dollars from private interest groups just this year; from oil and gas industries ($381,675), real estate ($377,975), insurance ($314,015), and the healthcare industry ($280,535).
Jim Francis (D) has amassed $36,341 in itemized (larger) contributions, which includes $3,275 in contributions donated from individuals that went through ActBlue, an organization that provides donation software support for Democratic candidates. He also received $250 from the Center for Free Thought Equality Fund PAC (which supports candidates who are humanists/atheists), and Democracy Engine LLC. (another donation software suite) In smaller, unitemized contributions, the campaign received $11,996.
Though the data listed for Tammy Savoie on the FEC database appeared incomplete, she has raised $216,100.33 for her campaign overall, with $67,727.31 from itemized contributions (larger ones, generally over $200), and $145,373.02 from smaller contributions. The campaign also got $17,500 in loans. Savoie and Francis each raised more money in smaller donations proportionally than larger ones (itemized vs unitemized). In Scalise’s campaign, smaller donations accounted for less than a third of all money raised for this campaign cycle. Editor’s note: since publication, the information provided by the FEC database has been updated to reflect a total of $234,600 received for her campaign).
Dugas did not file campaign figures with the FEC. Officially, her total amount raised is zero dollars.
Where are they now?
The political forecasting site fivethirtyeight.org has given Scalise a 99 percent chance of beating his Democratic challengers, estimating that he will capture about 68 percent of the vote. The site uses many different types of data to produce these rankings, from using multiple polls that are weighted for accuracy, as well as accounting for a bias towards incumbents, the margin that the incumbent won by the last time, and an index that compares the district in question to districts that have historically voted similarly.
Though superior funding is often indicative of a win, it does not necessarily guarantee it. In the 2016 presidential campaign, the Clinton campaign outspent Donald Trump and lost the office; though Clinton did win the popular vote. This is further complicated, however, by the amount of free coverage that the Trump campaign received from televised and other media, which one study valued at $2 billion.
However, there are other tales of candidates with far less coin winning major political races in the US.
In a New York Democratic congressional primary race against a long-standing House incumbent, New York Wonder Woman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez beat incumbent Joe Crowley, an all but anointed successor to Nancy Pelosi among House Democrats. She won her primary in a strongly blue district, mostly by virtue of an extremely strong “ground game” (knocking on doors and outreach) and captivating media campaigns. Andrew Gillum, who spent far less than the other four major candidates in the Democratic primary race for governor, won the primary and is poised to narrowly win the general election. Winning would make him the first Democratic governor of Florida in 20 years, and the state’s first Black Governor.
In a conservative district, the three Democrat challengers certainly have their work cut out for them. With only one week left until election day on November 6th, it is up to the electorate to show up at the polls and vote their values. Though the odds for the candidates look slim, voting is a use-it-or-lose-it sort of civil right.
We suggest you use it.
Jesse Lu Baum is a queer writer and cartoonist originally from Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Medium.com, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Mid-City Messenger and Preservation in Print. Aside from writing, she has also worked as a non-profit home repair person, a theater bartender, and a research assistant. If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out her other work here.