Washington Watch for Feb. 3, 2013

Heritage Action for America is an advocacy group that puts out one of the most-popular conservative scorecards and the group did so again last week with its summary of the 112th Congress in 2011 and 2012.

Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, led the way out of the Louisiana delegation with a 90 percent score that put him among just a handful of lawmakers that Heritage Action dubbed the “congressional sentinels.”

The rankings are developed by scoring congressional members on what the group considers to be key conservative votes. The average score for a House Republican was 66 percent.

Fleming took to social media online that he was “proud” to be No. 1 among the Louisiana delegation.

Fleming is currently considering running for the Senate in 2014 by challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. He likely would position himself as the true conservative he would argue the state needs.

And that’s where issues like these scorecards come into play.

Arguably considered the top challenger to Landrieu if he opts to run, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Baton Rouge, who has more than $2 million in his campaign war chest, scores a below-average 61 percent with Heritage.

The rest of the House delegation scored: former Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, 81 percent; Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, 81 percent; Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, 63 percent; Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, 48 percent; and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, 12 percent.

Last year, Boustany defeated Landry — redistricting forced them to run against each other — in a mudslinging affair in which Landry repeatedly tried to paint Boustany as a liberal. But Boustany had the homefield advantage with more than two-thirds of the new 3rd Congressional District made up of his old district.

Cassidy would have no such population advantages if, in a similar situation, he and Fleming both decide to run and Fleming starts claiming the Baton Rouge physician is a “RINO” (a Republican In Name Only).

Last year, when similar scorecards came out, Cassidy said he operates in Congress with an eye toward serving his constituents and not the “manipulative process” of scorecard politics.

“I’m not going to vote to appease some private think tank in D.C.,” Cassidy said in July.

Cassidy likely would face a tougher situation if Fleming ran against him in a closed primary with only Republicans voting before a runoff against Landrieu. But in Louisiana’s open primary system he could win over more moderates, although he could still find himself fenced in from both sides.

Landrieu, for her part, frequently describes herself as one of the few true moderates left in Congress. She scored only 11 percent with Heritage Action, but that’s still well above the 6 percent average score for Senate Democrats.

The state’s junior senator, David Vitter, R-La., scored second among the Louisiana delegation at 83 percent.

And Vitter could potentially leave open his U.S. Senate seat in 2015, which could again open up a spot for Cassidy, Fleming, Landry or anyone else who wants to run, such as Chas Roemer, who is the new Republican president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

That is because Vitter is expected to consider running for governor in 2015, with Gov. Bobby Jindal term-limited.

This past week, Charlie Spies, Vitter’s previous campaign legal counsel, filed federal and state paperwork to create creating The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, pro-Vitter political action committee, or Super PACs.

Spies became much better known last year though as a co-founder of the top Super PAC — the Restore Our Future PAC — for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Spies said it was formed to support Vitter running for either governor in 2015 or re-election in 2016. The paperwork was filed to provide for “maximum flexibility no matter what Sen. Vitter should decide to do.”

Spies isn’t saying who all is involved with the new Super PACs, but he did confirm that he expects that Courtney Guastella Callihan, who has served as Vitter’s campaign financial director, will work as a consultant with the PACs.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.