Endorsement raises eyebrows
U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, received a boost last week when the Calcasieu Republican Parish Executive Committee opted to endorse him over his opponent and fellow congressman, Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette.
But the endorsement carried with it an unusual caveat because the Calcasieu Republican Parish Executive Committee chairman, Bob Dewey, is a former field representative campaign aide for Boustany. Dewey worked for Boustany from the beginning of his congressional career in 2005 through 2009, when Dewey abruptly resigned. The Boustany camp is not commenting on the nature of the resignation.
So it raises eyebrows when Dewey stated in the endorsement, “Jeff Landry is the only proven conservative in this race. The Calcasieu RPEC trusts Congressman Landry to vote in the best interests of the people of Calcasieu Parish and all of Southwest Louisiana.”
While Landry clearly had the majority of the executive committee’s support in a parish that is in Boustany’s current district, the involvement of Dewey could muddle the endorsement somewhat. Dewey did not respond to a phone message left at his home.
The immediate past chairman of the Calcasieu RPEC, Tore Carlberg of Lake Charles, said the endorsement vote was a surprise and that Dewey is openly “bitter” toward Boustany “because of his past history.”
“Those for Landry were well prepared and ready to vote,” Carlberg said. “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.”
An effort was made to rescind the endorsement because the committee had met only with Landry, Carlberg said, but that vote narrowly failed.
If nothing else, the endorsement issue certainly shows the campaign for the Nov. 6 election is heating up after congressional redistricting forced the two incumbents into the same district that covers southwestern Louisiana, including much of Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes.
Pearson Cross, chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said similar conflicts between Boustany and Landry over endorsements and other aspects of the campaign will only grow.
“Congressional districts are normally fairly small and people know each other, so you can’t really be surprised when this kind of thing happens,” Cross said.
Landry, who rode the tea party wave to Congress in 2010, continues to attack Boustany as an untrustworthy insider who will do anything to keep “his taxpayer-paid job in Washington.”
Boustany also is going on the offensive with claims that Landry has been delinquent in paying his taxes in the past — allegations that Landry denies. He has insinuated that Landry lacks substance and that his opponent focuses on “bumper-sticker politics.”
Helping Landry, Cross said, is the presence in the race of party-backed Democrat and Lake Charles lawyer Ron Richard, as well as Republican Bryan Barrilleaux and Libertarian Jim Stark. None of those three has made much of a dent in major campaigning yet, but Cross said the more names that are on the ballot the better chance of forcing a runoff or even squeezing Boustany out.
“I still think he is the favorite, but things are definitely murkier,” Cross said. “I think a runoff is much more likely.”
Where Boustany has the edge is that most of the new district is made up of his base and that he held a substantial fundraising edge by the end of June. Cross said Boustany will continue to focus on his accomplishments and his stronger position of influence in Congress in the Ways and Means Committee.
In a district that still has a lot of minorities and Democrats, Cross said, he is “surprised” Landry is seemingly courting only the far political right when the two congressmen are “both pretty conservative.” For instance, Landry also has the backing of the staunchly conservative Family Research Council and its president and former Baton Rouge state senator, Tony Perkins.
Cross speculated that Landry may be hoping to get enough populist independents and moderates with his “I’m not from Washington” message.
Also, Cross said Landry’s political skills must not be underestimated. Cross even compared Landry’s charm and fieriness to that of former President Bill Clinton, although they are ideologically very different.
“It really has to do with how he relates to people,” Cross said. “It’s that ability to come in and really work a room.”
While Boustany is no slouch, Cross said, he trained to be a surgeon and does not have that same political “temperament.”
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.