“This election is about the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” said US Representative Jeff Landry on the Sean Hannity’s radio program days away from his runoff with fellow Louisiana Republican Congressman Charles Boustany.
The two southwest Louisiana GOP legislators were forced into a clash after the state lost its second seat in Congress in the past three census-driven apportionments and Governor Bobby Jindal vowed to veto redistricting legislation that did not give north Louisiana two congressional seats.
Landry is in his first term on Capitol Hill after upsetting the party establishment in 2010 by handily defeating the heavy favorite, former State House of Representatives Speaker Hunt Downer, in Louisiana’s last congressional party primary election and easily trouncing the Democratic nominee in the general election.
Since coming to Congress, Landry has been a vocal advocate of the TEA Party agenda and a high profile critic of President Obama, particularly concerning his administration’s hostility to offshore oil drilling.
A retired heart surgeon, Boustany is in his fourth term in Congress and became the first Republican to win the Acadiana-centered Seventh District after numerous attempts by other GOP candidates when he defeated Democratic state senator and ex-Lake Charles mayor Willie Mount in 2004.
Despite technically being the incumbent congressman in the Third District, Landry is very much the challenger as his opponent has more money (by an almost 2-1 margin), political support and familiar geography.
The election may have been largely decided the year before during legislative reapportionment as the redrawn map mostly contains parishes from Boustany’s contracted Seventh District, including the large population centers of Lafayette and Calcasieu.
Recognizing the difficulty of taking on the more established Boustany on his “home swamp”, Landry had pushed for the creation of a single coastal Louisiana district though that prospect was unlikely between opposition from the Fourth Flour and north Louisiana legislators.
Boustany is a close ally of Speaker of the House John Boehner, who tapped the Louisiana physician/legislator to deliver the response to President Obama’s nationally televised address to Congress on health care.
And while Boustany won’t be mistaken for departing moderate Maine US Senator Olympia Snowe, the Lafayette doctor’s victory will be interpreted by outside media unfamiliar with the details of the race and the district as a major defeat for the TEA Party.
With the approach of the so-called Fiscal Cliff, the Republican House leadership has removed (or purged) TEA Party-aligned representatives from budget and finance congressional committees without stated reasons though the action has been interpreted by conservative activists as a warning shot to other members of the GOP caucus considering not going along with a last minute compromise with President Barack Obama on the eve of drastic automatic spending cuts and tax increases.
Landry’s departure from Washington would be seen as another blow to staunch conservative representatives, hence the freshman congressman’s comments about the election’s implications going far beyond Cajun country and the state.
December runoffs can be unpredictable in Louisiana. Four years ago, a post-presidential election congressional contest resulted in the victory of a Vietnamese-American Republican in the majority-black, heavily Democratic Second District.
Turnout will be critical for both candidates though Boustany has a big advantage.
After an acrimonious primary where the two leading candidates exchanged heated barbs, Boustany and Landry have mainly focused on selling themselves in the second round.
Boustany’s voter pool, which includes Democrats more inclined to vote for the more mainstream of two Republicans, is far larger than Landry’s. In the primary, Boustany carried seven of the district’s ten parishes.
That said, the tenacious Landry can’t be written off.
The Iberia lawyer scored a major upset to get into Congress and has his own influential supporters, including departing South Carolina US Senator Jim DeMint, one of the modern conservative movement’s leading figures, and the Family Research Council, a prominent social conservative organization.
While Boustany has been relatively secure in his office since winning eight years ago, Landry hasn’t taken a break from campaign mode since 2010.
Though not a majority of the district, social conservatives and TEA Party activists might be motivated to send a message the White House and especially to the national GOP leadership that they, like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, will not be ignored by showing up for Landry in big numbers in a low-turnout election.