“After qualifying, [the election] takes on a reality that it didn’t before, and you see broader swaths of people paying attention,” said Cross.
Though Maness is expected to pull some conservative voters away from Cassidy in the general election, Cross said he may end up actually helping Cassidy more than he hurts him.
“Maness will prevent Cassidy from getting a first round election victory I think, because they do draw from the same pool,” Cross said. “But by the same token, I think if Maness were gone, Landrieu would have a better choice in the first round as well.”
That’s because runoff elections tend to attract fewer, and more politically motivated, voters than general elections. Sean Cain, an assistant professor of political science at Loyola University New Orleans, says a runoff would likely break in Cassidy’s favor.
“That lower turnout is typically the stronger core partisan voters who are willing to turnout in a runoff election,” said Cain. “So, if it’s a runoff between Cassidy and Landrieu, I think he has the advantage unless something really changes between November and December.”
Despite the fact that Maness trails behind his opponents in fundraising and polling, his campaign is pushing the possibility of a scenario – perhaps a far-fetched one -- in which Maness could advance to a runoff with Cassidy.
“If the question is, does Maness think he can get 34 percent of Louisianans to choose the non-politician in this race – absolutely,” said Maness campaign communications strategist Kurt Bardella. “Quite frankly, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if come November, both Bill Cassidy and Maness end up advancing to a December run-off and the voters reject Mary Landrieu outright.”
But before any scenario of a runoff has the chance of becoming political reality, there are still 10 weeks to go before November election.
Like Maness, both Landrieu and Cassidy are expressing optimism publically, while also acknowledging that it’s a tight race ahead.
Landrieu touts her clout in the Senate as one her campaign selling points, while Cassidy counters that her clout hasn’t brought real results for Louisiana.
“With my service, Louisiana has real clout and now holds the gavel of the Senate Energy Committee,” Landrieu told reporters after qualifying for the ballot Wednesday, according to her campaign. “But this clout isn't mine, it's the people of Louisiana’s and with this clout, we will be able to create thousands of high-paying energy jobs in Louisiana and secure America's energy independence.”
"You can speak of clout, but frankly you should ask, 'Why haven't you been effective? Why weren't you able to get a vote on Keystone Pipeline,'" The Times-Picayune quoted Cassidy as saying after he qualified for the ballot on Wednesday.
Landrieu has also been weathering a controversy as of late surrounding her use of taxpayer funds to pay for charter flights to two separate campaign events. Though Landrieu has called the incidents a mistake and has taken action to reimburse the flights, it has provided fodder for critics seeking to paint Landrieu as a wealthy politician who’s lost touch with her roots.
For Landrieu, one advantage may come on the debate stage.
Landrieu has agreed to four debates and Maness to seven, but Cassidy has yet to commit to any. Cassidy campaign spokesman John Cummins has said that Cassidy will wait until the close of the qualifying period before agreeing to any debates.
Louisiana State University political science professor Robert Hogan said part of Cassidy’s calculation in not committing to debates sooner may have to do with the fact that he knows that Landrieu is a “very good” debater.
“A lot of peoples’ criticism of [Cassidy] is that he doesn’t have the retail politics skill compared to Landrieu,” Hogan said. “A high stakes debate … is an unknown for Cassidy. Landrieu is someone who has devastated her opponents in debates.”
Both Landrieu and Maness have criticized Cassidy for not yet committing to any debates. Maness has even taken to tweeting out a photo of a duck wearing a “Congressman Cassidy” name tag with the accompanying hashtag #duckingdebates.