Is The Field Of Challengers To Mary Landrieu Starting To Shake Out?

Several developments seem to be breaking loose among the potential contenders for Mary Landrieu’s Senate seat in Louisiana, up next year.

The first batch were no big surprise. From the Times-Picayune

Scalise spokesman Stephen Bell issued the following statement Tuesday:

“Congressman Scalise is focused on his current job of representing Louisiana’s First Congressional District and is honored to be the Chairman of the Republican Study Committee and is not considering running for any other office,” spokesman Stephen Bell said.

In a statement, Boustany spokesman Neal Patel said:

“While Congressman Boustany is honored to have been encouraged to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014, he remains dedicated to the 3rd Congressional District of South Louisiana. He was humbled to receive so much support from across the state. Serving on the House Ways and Means Committee allows Congressman Boustany to focus on issues important to Louisiana ranging from trade, to comprehensive tax reform, to health care. He looks forward to continue representing South Louisiana on Capitol Hill.”

Scalise was certainly no surprise, as his position atop the Republican Study Committee is a plum job which could very well lead to his moving up in the House leadership and perhaps ending up as a majority whip or leader, or even maybe one day as Speaker of the House. He’s close enough in a short enough period of time after arriving in Washington in 2008 that such ambitions are entirely realistic; giving up his House seat even for a legitimate shot at the Senate just doesn’t make a lot of tactical sense.

And Boustany’s chances of winning a statewide race simply don’t stack up with other Republican possibilities; his flirtation with the Senate seat was largely the product of his big win over Jeff Landry for re-election in what is basically an expanded version of his old district.

But with the public vacating of the race by those two, the Republican field appears to be centered around three main figures: Reps. Bill Cassidy and John Fleming and Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne.

The latter was the subject of a rather glowing portrayal at the Weekly Standard today

Louisiana’s showing up a lot on cable TV these days. There’s the History Channel’s Swamp People, a hit series documenting the lives of Cajun alligator hunters in the swamps of coastal Louisiana. Over on A&E, you can watch Duck Dynasty, which features a self-professed family of rednecks who turned their northeast Louisiana-based duck call business into a multi-million dollar company. Tune into Country Music Television to catch one of three Louisiana-themed shows: Bayou BillionairesMy Big Redneck Vacation, and CMT’s newest program, Swamp Pawn, which is not to be confused with History’s Cajun Pawn Stars, a creole-flavored spinoff of the popular parent series. Sons of Guns, filmed in Baton Rouge, is the Discovery Channel’s second Louisiana show after the now-cancelled Ragin Cajuns. And this spring, A&E has a new reality series, The Governor’s Wife, which focuses on the third (much younger) wife of Louisiana’s 85-year-old convicted ex-governor Edwin Edwards.

Jay Dardenne, a Republican who may try to take Democrat Mary Landrieu’s Senate seat next year, probably wouldn’t take credit for all of the recent attention Louisiana’s been getting, but he might as well. About a decade ago, Dardenne, then a state senator, co-authored a motion picture tax credit, providing the incentive for Hollywood and the TV networks to film in Bayou State. In his current position as lieutenant governor, he oversees the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism—which means Dardenne is Louisiana’s chief salesman. And those popular TV programs have been a great sales aid.

The piece goes on for a while, complete with praise for Dardenne from such luminaries as Lord Bob Mann. It recounts Dardenne’s impressive string of four statewide election victories in the last five years – special elections for the Secretary of State and Lt. Governor jobs, then regular election victories for each, in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011, notes that Dardenne has built crossover appeal to independents and Democrats, has managed to present himself as a moderate despite a record generally regarded by most as conservative (though there are those on the Right who would dispute that characterization) and has a great quote from the state’s #2 official…

“People are more ambitious for me than I am for myself,” he tells me. “I don’t have a particular timeline, but my main focus is on the 2015 governor’s race. That’s what I’ve anticipated looking at. This [Senate race] has kind of been a recent occurrence.”

Dardenne’s own admission that the job he wants is in Baton Rouge, not Washington doesn’t make the piece irrelevant, though, because as its author Michael Warren notes the talk that Sen. David Vitter might be preparing to run for governor could make Dardenne’s path a lot more difficult – pursuing the Senate seat against Landrieu could be a smarter outlet for the ambition either of Dardenne or his supporters.

And of course Dardenne can make that run without giving up his current job.

The PPP poll which had him within three points of Landrieu a couple of weeks ago makes for even more fuel for the fire, though PPP is a notoriously inaccurate pollster for red-state races.

But Dardenne has a pair of problems to overcome if he wants to become the Republican standard-bearer against Landrieu, and both involve a fellow Baton Rougean who wants that seat.

Namely, Cassidy. And primarily the fact that the Congressman has a war chest of $2 million already built in preparation for the race. That stash is federal money, an important distinction – Dardenne’s current war chest of $718,000 (as of last month) is a state campaign chest, which he can’t use for the Senate race. That would mean Dardenne would be starting from scratch and he’d be forced to mine much of the same capitol-area ground Cassidy has been mining in an effort to catch up to the Congressman.

But it’s not just money, and the occupation of many of the resources to raise it, that Dardenne might have trouble with. From John Maginnis’ latest dispatch at the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Daily Report

While Dardenne ponders, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, who has been quiet since he fired his political consultant Timmy Teepell, resurfaced in campaign mode this week. He showed up at the Republican State Central Committee meeting with his two new advisors, Jason Hebert and Scott Hobbs of The Political Firm.

Cassidy had been considered to be the big favorite to emerge as the GOP’s leading candidate for the seat all along, and particularly after the news hit that he’d hired Teepell. It was when Teepell and the Cassidy camp parted ways that all the new names – state sen. Conrad Appel, BESE member Chas Roemer, Boustany, Landry, Fleming and now Dardenne – began emerging.

But in bringing Hebert and Hobbs onto the scene, Cassidy would not only be getting two of the state’s best campaign gurus – TPF’s signature is on an astonishing number of electoral successes in Louisiana in recent years – but he’d also be robbing Dardenne of a big piece of his past winning team. Hebert was the general consultant for Dardenne’s successful runs in 2010 and 2011 for his current position; it might not be impossible for him to win without Hebert, but it could well be more difficult.

Meanwhile, Fleming remains an interesting darkhorse. He’s arguably the most conservative of Louisiana’s congressional delegation, he has a big reserve of personal cash he could pour into his campaign, he (like Cassidy and Dardenne) has cultivated a decent TV presence while coming off with a little sharper edge than either, and he’s got North Louisiana virtually all to himself. It’s too early to know whether he really wants to pursue the seat or if he’d keep his powder dry for 2016, when it’s possible Louisiana’s other Senate seat could come open should Vitter run, and win, the governor’s race.

So we might – might – be back to Cassidy as the likely Republican candidate, because as Maginnis notes the state party folks are very worried about having multiple Republicans running in a jungle primary against Landrieu and there is a fervent hope that the party could unify behind a single candidate. If not, multiple Republicans would commence to beating on each other in an effort to secure a spot in the runoff – with the risk that their internecine fight could lead to her skating to 50 percent in the primary.

That’s hardly a sure thing, but it’s enough of a risk to make some politicos on the Right nervous. Landrieu’s seat is the last remaining Democrat holdout in Louisiana, and it’s also a big piece of the national GOP’s plans to re-take the Senate in 2014. Nobody wants to blow a chance to knock her out next year, and nobody wants to risk a mistake – or be blamed for losing the seat.

But if Cassidy runs for the Senate, he’d have to give up his House seat – and there is no clear Republican candidate in the wings in a newly-redrawn district which ought to be quite Republican-friendly. That’s another source for consternation and worry.

But it’s also a post for another time…



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