Bill Cassidy, Rob Maness And Mary Landrieu

I’ll be a little surprised if I have any friends at all after writing this piece, which is the reason it’s not showing up here at the Hayride until today, rather than Sunday or yesterday.

What prompted it is the weekend’s events at the RedState Gathering down in New Orleans. If you’re not familiar with what goes on there, it’s a yearly showcase of conservative politicians who are bucking the Republican establishment. This year among the speakers were a half-dozen GOP candidates for the House or Senate who are running either against Republican incumbents or the “hand-picked” oddsmakers’ favorites for the GOP nominations.

Among those candidates was Rob Maness, the retired Air Force colonel who is something of the Tea Party candidate in next year’s Senate race in Louisiana. We’ll get to Maness in a little while.

Before I left Baton Rouge to head down to RSG, I got my head bitten off by my friend Joel DiGrado, who is the campaign manager for Bill Cassidy – the “hand-picked establishment favorite” Republican in that Senate race. Joel got irritated by my suggestion that if Maness gave a hum-dinger of a speech at the RedState event it had the potential to siphon conservative votes Cassidy is going to need if he’s going to unseat Mary Landrieu, and that Cassidy needs to veer to the right if he wants to win. He let me have it for saying so in don’t-tell-me-how-to-do-my-job style.

I may have deserved that, though I absolutely think Cassidy’s path to victory is on the Right. What I didn’t recognize is that Joel has bigger headaches than Rob Maness right now and that Maness is the last thing he’s worried about.

It needs to be understood that next year’s election isn’t going to work like a typical Senate election. We’re not going to have a party primary; instead, we’ll have a jungle primary on Nov. 4, and then barely more than a month later on Dec. 6 we’ll have a runoff.

You almost literally can’t have a better setup to re-elect an incumbent than this. Typically you’d have party primaries in the spring or early summer of an election year and then the Nov. 4 general election, and in such a situation there is virtually no downside to as chaotic and crowded a primary as you like in a race like the one to re-elect or defeat Landrieu – because whoever wins the GOP primary will have four or five months as the party’s Senate nominee to raise money and push a message in advance of November. Whatever blood gets spilled in the primary has dried up and blown away long before the runup to the general election gets rolling in October.

And so what Joel is terrified of is the constant rumors of more Republican candidates making the race.

Last week he had two of them to deal with. First, there was Elbert Guillory, who has been perhaps Louisiana’s rock star politician ever since he made his switch from D to R at the @large conference back in May. Guillory has flirted with the idea of entering the Senate race since his party switch and particularly since he was put through the D.C. washing machine a couple of weeks ago. He’s been told by the conservative and Tea Party crowd in the Beltway that he needs to run, and it’s difficult for that stuff not to go to his head. The guess here is that Guillory ultimately holds off on running for the Senate and instead runs for the open Lt. Governor seat in 2015, where he would become an almost instant favorite against Billy Nungesser and Kip Holden, but until he announces for Lt. Governor he’s going to be out there as a looming thundercloud for the Cassidy campaign.

And the other thundercloud was Scott Angelle, the Public Service Commissioner newly elected last year in Baton Rouge. Angelle was put forth as a Senate candidate in a piece Sammy Hanna wrote at the Ouachita Citizen Thursday

With all due respect to the PSC, Angelle is capable of doing far more with his life than riding herd over our friends and neighbors and thieves in the utility business. Much more.

As my Daddy would say, Angelle is a rare breed, meaning he possesses all the right ingredients one needs to go far in politics. He’s articulate, intelligent, easy going, never meets a stranger and women say he’s easy on the eyes. He hails from a political family from a very political region of the state (Acadiana). He’s a family man, a devout Catholic and an outdoorsman.

And a friend recently observed that Angelle is a better speaker than Edwin Edwards was in his heyday. That’s saying a lot. It also says a lot when a noted political consultant opines that Angelle is better versed on the issues near and dear to Louisiana than any governor since Edwards in his first term.

Now 51 years old and certainly not getting any younger, it’s time for Angelle to make a move.

Known for being a bit apprehensive, Angelle needs to toss caution to the wind and give Sen. Mary Landrieu a run for her money. He could do it, too.

A Republican for a number of years now, Angelle worked in and around Democratic Party politics for decades. He knows how Democrats play their game, race baiting and all. On his worst day, Angelle is far more knowledgeable than Landrieu is on her best.

Though Landrieu already has an opponent in Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, the bottom line is this: Cassidy can’t beat Landrieu. Angelle can.

No, there is no reason to believe Sammy Hanna had a cheerleader outfit on when he wrote that piece. What you’ve got to understand is that when you read stuff like that in Hanna’s column, it comes straight out of the heads of Timmy Teepell and Roy Fletcher, whom Angelle is a client of. Hanna floats their trial balloons all the time.

And as we’ve discussed before, Teepell is looking for a major candidate to run in a major Louisiana race. He made his name as Bobby Jindal’s chief political strategist, campaign manager and chief of staff, but Jindal is basically spent as an electoral force in the state at present seeing as though he’s termed-out as governor in 2015 and won’t be running for the Senate.

Teepell was going to be Cassidy’s political consultant next year, and Cassidy was his client for the 2012 House election. But earlier this year he and the Cassidys had a falling out and now he’s lacking a candidate in the state to hitch his wagon to. And OnMessage, the political consulting firm Teepell is affiliated with, wants a presence in the state – that’s why they hired Teepell a couple of years ago in the first place.

So ever since the Cassidy-Teepell split, the consultant has delighted in acting as a burr in the Congressman’s saddle. There were all those rumors about Jindal getting into the Senate race, until Jindal put them to bed, and those rumors had the effect of depressing Cassidy’s fundraising. After all, the donors who are big Jindal people aren’t going to max out for Cassidy when it’s still possible that their favorite guy might run against him.

And tossing Angelle’s name into the mix has a similar effect, though probably not as pronounced. Hanna greatly oversells Angelle’s appeal as a Republican candidate – particularly once an examination of his less-than-stellar voting record on the PSC is undertaken.

Neither Angelle nor Guillory is in a position to knock Cassidy out of a runoff with Landrieu. What DiGrado is worried about is that 4 1/2 weeks between the primary and the general next year, and the effect a field full of Republicans fighting amongst themselves to get to that runoff will have on the war chest for the head-to-head with the incumbent.

Because the nightmare scenario is to have to fight through two or three other Republicans and fail to significantly damage Landrieu while essentially spending all your money, make the runoff on Nov. 4, and then have to face a Landrieu who’s already sitting at 48 percent in the primary and holding $8-10 million she’s going to cover the airwaves with in that month. In that scenario, Landrieu’s air assault overwhelms an underfunded Cassidy, who has to depend on third-party ads from out-of-state people like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS to match her media spending. We already know that a lot of the third-party stuff is worthless, particularly on the conservative side – Rove’s ads last year were all generic pablum aimed at soccer moms and he spent $400 million not moving the needle an inch in the 2012 cycle for either the presidential race or any of the GOP’s senate candidates, almost all of whom lost.

So in Joel’s case he’s very much on board with the idea that Cassidy has to unite the conservative clans to win. But he’s not worried about Maness so much as he is the other Republican factions out there, and the mischief Timmy-Teepell-as-woman-scorned is causing for his campaign.

And that’s why I got my head bitten off.

Over the weekend down at RedState, the gathering’s event host Erick Erickson, who I’m generally a big fan of, was presenting Cassidy as a classic RINO Establishment type. And Erickson was assailing him as another Suzie Terrell or John Kennedy – someone Mary Landrieu can get to the right of. Erickson actually said that he’d rejected Cassidy when the latter asked to speak, refunded Cassidy’s registration fee when he attempted to attend and turned Cassidy down when the congressman wanted to buy a table at the event. And Erickson attacked the state GOP for continuing to run RINO’s against Landrieu before introducing Maness as a speaker on Saturday.

I’d never heard Maness speak. I’d gotten an advance copy of his script from James Hartman, his speechwriter and one of the best message-makers in Louisiana. I read the speech; it was great.

Then Maness started to give it.

I had the script of the speech open on my phone while the Colonel was giving it, and he ran off the script so much that when his 30 minutes was up and Erickson took to the podium to give him the hook and turn the proceedings over to questions from the audience, Maness was barely halfway through it. What’s more, he was nowhere near a place he could wrap the speech up, so what resulted was a flailing, rushed, caught-with-his-pants-down scramble to get to the last paragraph of the speech so he could wrap it up with Erickson standing six inches away with a “come on, hurry up” look on his face.

Even before he was racing through his wrapup, here was a taste…

I make this criticism not to trash Maness. He’s a good man with a great resume, and I have no doubt that he’s a terrific conservative – perhaps a better one than Cassidy.

And I have no problem with Maness being in this race. There are folks out and about who are accusing him of being a stalking horse for Landrieu; I don’t believe that. In fact, Maness’ candidacy is actually good for the conservative movement in this state – because there are people working in his campaign who will get valuable experience in running statewide campaigns. A perfect example is his campaign manager John Kerry; John is a talented young guy from Houma, a black conservative who was a big help to us in putting on the @large conference and somebody who has a bright future in conservative politics in this state. Without Maness being in the race, a guy like Kerry might not get the experience that will serve his career well.

What’s more, Maness is a guy who should have a political future in Louisiana. I think that future could be in one of the statewide offices like treasurer or insurance commissioner, in the state legislature, as parish president in St. Tammany or on the PSC or BESE or something. Running for the Senate this time could open up opportunities down the road to put a good conservative in a position to make a difference in this state.

But here’s the problem: Maness had $40,000 in his campaign account as of June 30. Cassidy had $3.2 million and Landrieu had $4.9 million. It’s not the end of the world to have a campaign which is broke; at this point in the 2012 cycle Ted Cruz’ campaign was broke. If you’re an insurgent candidate and you’re broke, though, it helps to be Ted Cruz. It helps to be a guy who lights up a room with a speech everybody in the audience gets chills over.

And when you run off your script so badly that your speech ends when you’re only halfway through it, you’re not Ted Cruz.

As it turns out, Maness wasn’t Greg Brannon, either. If you’ve never heard of Greg Brannon, that’s OK – that’ll change. He’s an OBGYN from North Carolina who’s running against Kay Hagans for the Senate seat in that state, and he’s a “disruptive” conservative who’s making life miserable for the uninspiring moderate House speaker in the North Carolina state legislature Tom Tillis. Brannon gave a Ted Cruz-style, blow-you-away speech at RedState and he’s on his way; in fact, Brannon torched Tillis in a straw poll at the North Carolina state GOP convention in June and could become a Ted Cruz, Mike Lee or Rand Paul type in the Senate for this upcoming cycle.

I mention Brannon because Tillis is an OnMessage client. It’s interesting how all these things seem to run together.

I also mention him because Maness has to be that kind of killer speaker if he’s going to make a real run at Cassidy, and then Landrieu. And it’s asking a great deal for somebody who’s never run for office before to just fall out of bed as a great orator. Sure, he can get better – he probably will. But RSG was Maness’ big chance to make an early splash, and he didn’t quite get there.

That’s why DiGrado is more worried about the more traditional Republican politicians who won’t go away.

As for me, I just want Landrieu beaten. I’m tired of crooked hack Democrat pols slurping away at the federal trough and voting against the interests of Louisiana taxpayers. If I could make Cassidy more conservative, I would; he’s got a lifetime score of 79 from the Club For Growth, 86.75 from the American Conservative Union and 67 from Freedomworks, and while those aren’t bad numbers they could be better. But it’s not accurate for Erickson to make Cassidy out to be a RINO; he’s not. He’s a mainstream conservative who’s probably in the Mitch McConnell vein, and while I’d prefer a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul I’ll take Mitch McConnell over Mary Landrieu.

And I recognize that this is not an open seat. Republicans in Louisiana have been shooting at Landrieu since 1996 and missing; she’s not going to go away just because we want her to. It’s going to take an actual good campaign to beat her; the conservative side of the fence needs a candidate who can raise a ton of money, who can inspire a crowd, who can deliver a winning message in a forceful way, who can define and control a narrative, who can line up a broad coalition of support and who can build a huge campaign organization and mobilize it on Election Day. As terrible a senator as Landrieu is, she can do all those things. She’s done them three times and beaten Republican candidates who couldn’t despite better representing the ideological majority in this state.

To beat Landrieu requires more than just being more conservative than she is. It requires being a good candidate. So far Maness isn’t. The question is, is Bill Cassidy?

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