NPR News for Baton Rouge
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy Wins Second Term, Avoiding Runoff

Provided Photo

Republican U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy won a second term Tuesday, avoiding a Dec. 5 runoff by rising above a crowded field and earning 62 percent of the vote in Louisiana’s open primary at the time the Associated Press called the race.

National political analysts never wavered from their prediction that Cassidy would ultimately win reelection. The real question leading up to Tuesday was whether or not the crowded field of long-shot candidates would siphon enough votes from Cassidy to force a one-on-one showdown between the Republican incumbent and one of his Democratic challengers.

Cassidy credited his victory to the disconnect between the values of Louisiana voters and those of the Democratic party.

“Their agenda is higher taxes, more regulations and, in a phrase, less freedom,” Cassidy said. “Our agenda is lower taxes, less regulation, and in a word, liberty.”

Cassidy thanked his supporters at a small victory party in Baton Rouge and outlined his goals for a second term.

“My pledge to you, and the folks that are watching, is that I will continue to do my best to work for the people of this nation, to work for the people of our state and to make this state and nation better for now, better for us and for every American who comes in the future,” Cassidy said.

Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, an up-and-coming Black Democrat and Cassidy’s highest-profile opponent, was unable to force a runoff and had just 17 percent of the vote when the race was called around 10:15 p.m.

Perkins presented the contest as a referendum on Cassidy and his fellow Senate Republicans' response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Four months ago, running for Senate was not on my radar at all,” Perkins said in a brief concession speech. “I watched as COVID-19 robbed us of our neighbors, our friends and our loved ones. I saw small businesses — staples in our community — shutter their doors.”

“I did everything I could to fight for the resources and the help Shreveporters needed,” Perkins said, his voice breaking. “I want to congratulate Sen. Cassidy on his victory and we should all pray for his success.”

Derrick Edwards was third with 10 percent when the race was called. The twelve remaining candidates netted a combined 10 percent of the vote as of 10:20 p.m.

Cassidy, a practicing physician, rose to national prominence in his first term as the architect of President Donald Trump’s proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Cassidy had the full support of Trump, an asset in a ruby-red state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 and again in 2020. Throughout the campaign, Cassidy was more likely to mention former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden than any of his opponents in the Senate race.

Cassidy spent Monday in hurricane-ravaged Southeast Louisiana, holding a series of small-scale meet-and-greets with supporters.

Perkins spent his final day on the campaign trail in Acadiana, with stops in New Iberia, Opelousas and Lafayette.

“If we put in the work, we will win, and there is way too much at stake not to put in the work,” Perkins said in a Twitter video he recorded with supporters in New Iberia. “Healthcare, our pandemic response, COVID relief, and our voting rights are all on the ballot.”

He urged his supporters to “finish the mission” and bring three friends to the polls.

As the clear frontrunner in the race, Cassidy refused to participate in any debates or candidate forums. Instead, he drowned out his opponents with wave after wave of television and digital advertisements.

Cassidy dipped into his nearly $11 million campaign war chest to air spots slamming Biden’s plan to “transition away” from oil and gas production and proclaiming his full-throated support for newly confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whose nomination in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election drew intense criticism from Democrats. Others focused on his legislative efforts to expand veterans’ access to benefits, curb surprise medical billing, support small businesses, and secure federal relief for Louisiana after natural disasters.

In Cassidy’s absence, Perkins and Baton Rouge Businessman Antoine Pierce, another Democrat, used those public appearances to attack Cassidy’s record on healthcare and coronavirus relief.

“I think he is afraid and he is ashamed of his record thus far,” Perkins said at a candidate forum held by the Press Club of Baton Rouge last month. “One of the first things he did when he was elected to the United States Senate was try to pass the Graham-Cassidy Bill that would have stripped away healthcare for half a million Louisianans and would have jeopardized healthcare for nearly a million Louisianans with pre-existing conditions. And to this day he continues to try to strip away our healthcare.”

“His absence speaks to the cowardice that has permeated his entire time in office,” Pierce said. “He does not have a record to run on — other than a negative one. … That’s why we are here. That’s why there are 15 people in this race.”

Perkins, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at Westpoint and Harvard Law School, an Army Ranger, and a decorated combat veteran, turned his compelling personal story into more than 50,000 individual campaign contributions, a significant number of which came from outside of Louisiana.

Perkins outraised Cassidy in the final month of the campaign (according to the Federal Election Commission’s Oct. 14 report, the most recent campaign finance data available), but his $1.7 million fundraising could not buy him the exposure needed to take a big enough bite out of Cassidy’s lead.

As Perkins placed his personal story at the center of his early campaign messaging. As the race wore on, he added in attacks on Cassidy’s handling of coronavirus relief measures and his position as the standard-bearer for the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Perkins secured endorsements from former President Barack Obama, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and a litany of prominent U.S. Senators, including Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. But Perkins ran without the support of two of Louisiana’s highest-profile Black lawmakers — U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and State Senator Cleo Fields. Richmond and Fields pledged their support to Jefferson Parish Attorney Derrick Edwards, a perennial “also-ran” who raised no money for his campaign and had 10 percent of the vote when the race was called.