BATON ROUGE, La. – A Republican political newcomer will face a GOP state senator in November to determine who will be Louisiana's newest congressman, as voters Saturday whittled down a field of 14 candidates.
Vance McAllister, a businessman from Monroe who self-funded his campaign, and Neil Riser, a second-term lawmaker from Columbia, will compete in the Nov. 16 election.
Riser was the top vote-getter in Saturday's primary election, taking in nearly 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 and having the support of the highly popular "Duck Dynasty" television series star Phil Robertson.
"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 know that this many people in this district can believe in somebody like that."
Riser received support from 32 percent of voters while McAllister had 18 percent, according to unofficial results from the secretary of state's office.
Though he'll be facing a fellow Republican, Riser said he doesn't feel the need to change tactics in the runoff.
"We're going to keep sending the same message that D.C. needs to pass a balanced budget, that spending's out of control," he said. "We need to send someone with a proven record to Washington, someone who's worked to pass a balanced budget."
Turnout was low, with fewer than 22 percent of voters showing up at the polls.
Democrats were shut out of the runoff though a majority of the districts' voters are registered with the party, falling in line with a continuing trend of Republican candidates winning 5th District support in national elections.
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.
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. 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.
Both 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 Barack 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.