For all the chatter about healthcare reforming rocking Democrats, a special election in the deep south last night indicates that the Tea Party is DC’s sick man.

Vance McAllister, an outsider-businessman, won 60% of the vote and defeated state senator Neal Riser in the contest to represent Lousiana’s 5th district in the House. Both are Republicans. But McAllister ran a largely self-funded campaign with the endorsement of a star from the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty.” Riser had the support of the establishment and Tea Party groups, which have quickly lost their outsider luster. Astroturf floats.

It’s not that McAllister isn’t conservative. Both candidates ran on anti-choice, anti-gun control, and (self-proclaimed) deficit hawk platforms. But unlike Riser, he said that he’ll work with Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act.

Via The Christian Science Monitor:

“I’m representing the whole district. I got Democrats, I got Republicans and I got independent votes. I think that’s what we got to get this country back to is representing everybody. I’m going to stick to my conservative values, but we’ve got to work together,” McAllister said.

Considered the front-runner since the special election was called in August, Riser only managed to pick up 3,800 votes from his total in the October primary. McAllister, by comparison, added 36,000 new votes from his primary finish.


McAllister said repeal had no chance with Democrats leading the Senate and White House, so he said Congress should work to improve the law. He also wants Louisiana to expand its Medicaid program to give insurance to the working poor, an expansion that Riser opposed.

The positions put McAllister at odds with some tea party supporters but generated support from Democrats who had no candidate of their own in the runoff.

[University of Louisiana political science professor Joshua] Stockley said voters in the very strongly conservative 5th District “signaled that McAllister’s pragmatism seems to be a more tenable governing solution.”

The seat was vacated by Rodney Alexander, who left DC for a job in Governor Bobby Jindal’s administration. Both men supported the losing candidate in the run-off.

Turnout was low, and a celebrity friendship certainly helped McAllister. But it does go to show that the Tea Party’s signature strategy, tunnel-vision hatred of Obamacare, doesn’t suffice these days—even the heart of Red America.

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Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.