The conventional wisdom in the race between Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry for the 3rd District congressional seat had all along been that Boustany would hold majorities in the areas of the newly-redrawn district which have been part of Boustany’s constituency, and those areas contain a sizable majority of the new district – with Landry holding larger majorities in the eastern areas of the new district which he currently represents.
But two developments in a sizable part of the district will test that conventional wisdom. Because three candidates from Lake Charles qualified against Boustany and Landry last month – a Republican, a Libertarian and a well-heeled Democrat – and today the Calcasieu Republican Parish Executive Committee has surprisingly endorsed Landry.
The Calcasieu RPEC held a vote last week and Landry received 75 percent of the support.
“Jeff Landry is the only proven conservative in this race,” said Bob Dewey, Chairman of the Calcasieu RPEC. “The Calcasieu RPEC trusts Congressman Landry to vote in the best interests of the people of Calcasieu Parish and all of Southwest Louisiana. Jeff will vote people over politics, Louisiana over Washington, and the next generation over his career,” said Dewey.
The Landry campaign was obviously pleased with the development, particularly as it came in the wake of his getting the Family Research Council’s backing last week.
“The Calcasieu Republican Party realizes what people across this District are beginning to realize: we need stronger conservative voices in Congress to cut spending, fix the debt, stop Obamacare, and protect our rights and liberties including the right-to-life. It is an honor to receive the endorsement of the Calcasieu Republican Party. It speaks volumes to the momentum of our campaign across Southwest Louisiana,” said Landry.
It’s interesting that the Calcasieu RPEC would have chosen Landry for the endorsement, given that everybody else in the race is either from Lake Charles or represents it in Congress. The endorsement comes off like a raid into enemy territory, though how much of an impact on the race it will have is difficult to ascertain at this point.
“I look forward to representing Calcasieu Parish,” said Landry. “As a former oil and gas small business owner, I understand the industries driving the Calcasieu Parish economy; and I will fight just as hard for the jobs in Calcasieu Parish as I have all across South Louisiana.”
Boustany’s campaign has made a concerted effort to fight off Landry in Lake Charles, putting up a campaign web page reminding voters there that Landry had suggested separating Lake Charles from Cameron Parish as part of a proposed “coastal” district which would have run from the mouth of the Mississippi to the mouth of the Sabine. That never really materialized as a serious option during redistricting, but it’s Boustany’s preference that it become an issue in the campaign.
So how much of a dent in Boustany’s Lake Charles support will the two recent events make? Well, let’s take a gander at Calcasieu Parish’s recent performance in past elections.
First, Calcasieu’s voter registration statistics from the Sept. 1 release say that the parish has 125,000 registered voters – which is a sizable chunk of the 490,000 registered voters in the district. Of that number, 90,000 – or 72 percent – are white, with 30,000 black voters and 4,000 “others.” And of that 125,000, 60,000 are registered Democrats with the remaining 52 percent split evenly among Republicans and independents.
In last year’s gubernatorial election, Bobby Jindal pulled 70 percent of the vote in Calcasieu – with Democrats and Democrat-leaning independent candidates getting 25 percent.
And while Boustany didn’t have any competition in the November 2010 ballot, David Vitter outpolled Charlie Melancon in the Senate race that cycle 60-33 in Calcasieu, while Jay Dardenne beat Caroline Fayard 58-42.
In 2008, Boustany was on the ballot – state senator Donald Cravins, Jr. ran against him and pulled 36 percent of the vote (Boustany got 60 percent). On that same day, Mary Landrieu beat John Kennedy 51-46 for the Senate seat and John McCain beat Barack Obama by a 61-37 count.
That would indicate a standard-issue Democrat would get a minimum of 25-30 percent of the Calcasieu vote and perhaps as much as 40-42 percent if enough resources were brought to bear, which would mean somewhere between 25 and 42 percent of the Calcasieu vote that Boustany would likely expect to get in a head-to-head race against Landry is now likely to go to Richard. Boustany would then be in a fight with Landry for the remaining 58-75 percent.
How much of the Republican vote would the RPEC endorsement move to Landry? That’s even harder to say.
This spring, Rick Santorum carried 49 percent of the Calcasieu vote in the Louisiana Republican primary. Santorum’s vote is hard to quantify as a Landry or Boustany vote. But Mitt Romney picked up 26 percent, and Romney as an “establishment” candidate in the primary might be at least tenditiously characterized as a Boustany doppleganger, while Landry’s best facsimile might have been Newt Gingrich in the primary. Gingrich got 16 percent of the Calcasieu vote, and Ron Paul – whose support might go to Landry or it might go to the minor candidates in the race – picked up seven percent.
Does the RPEC endorsement move a majority of the Santorum vote to Landry? Time will tell. One imagines that its effect might be less than that. But it does serve to establish that Landry has a base of support in Calcasieu that the conventional wisdom has downplayed to date.
And since Boustany has been counting on a blowout win in Calcasieu, his electoral strategy calculations may be getting a bit more complicated.