It may not be the “Rumble in the Jungle,” but here’s a modest proposal for the “Cage Match in the Cajundome.”
You’ve got U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, who has established a reputation as a tough scrapper, against Lafayette’s own Republican congressman, Charles Boustany, who is surgical in the ring.
When debates fail, let’s settle it in the dome. Let’s see how far they’re willing to go for their constituents.
The two incumbent congressmen — including Democratic candidate and lawyer, Ron Richard, of Lake Charles — were originally scheduled for a debate on Monday at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
But then things got screwy. Richard dropped out because of scheduling issues — he did not respond to three messages Thursday and Friday — then there were changes made in terms of the format and televising the event.
During all this time — about a three-week period until this past week — Boustany’s campaign was left off of all the email communications. Oops. When the Boustany camp found out about all the changes just a few days before the debate, the whole thing fell apart. Oops again.
Pearson Cross, the UL-Lafayette political science department chairman, said the university takes the blame for the cancellation.
“In a race this charged, people are very wary of being set up or looking for any advantage or disadvantage,” Cross said.
“It was really just a communications mess-up. It was inadvertent,” he said. “There were just some mess-ups on our end in getting our ducks in a row.”
Much of that came down to the political science faculty working with the journalism faculty to organize the event and assumptions being made that everyone was in the loop. The official news release blamed “unforeseen conflicts involving time, location and format.”
But Landry was quick to seize on the event cancellation and to call Boustany a “liberal” in hiding who is seemingly afraid to face him.
“I stand by ready to debate liberal Charles Boustany on the issues affecting Americans, any time and any place. What’s up, doc?” Landry said in a prepared statement.
Them’s fightin’ words. So the cage match proposal still holds.
Landry then wrote a letter to Boustany on Friday asking him to do what’s right for the people of the district and to have a debate.
It should be noted that Boustany and Landry have both participated in public forums thus far in Franklin, which is in the eastern part of the redrawn 3rd Congressional District, and in Crowley on the western side.
Landry also called out Boustany for not participating in a Southwest Louisiana Tea Party forum in Lake Charles. That absence might be more explainable because Landry is closely aligned with the tea-party groups in south Louisiana. Boustany, likewise, is the only Republican member of the Louisiana House delegation who is not part of the Tea Party Caucus run by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
But the biggest city in the district is obviously Lafayette, and now it seems there will be no debate there prior to the Nov. 6 open primary election. The good people of Lafayette likely would prefer an event with the top candidates within the city limits.
“Our schedule is chock-full,” said John Porter, Boustany’s campaign manager. “As of now, I don’t foresee a date opening up.”
Boustany is not shying away from Landry, Porter said, noting the two forums where they have met.
“We have 25 days left in the campaign,” Porter said Friday. “The congressman is doing everything he can to reach out and meet with as many constituents as he can.”
Porter called the three-week gap in communications for the canceled debate “troubling.”
Another factor is that the national FreedomWorks for America group was organizing tea party activists and others to rally on Monday at UL-Lafayette with “Vote Landry” signs and pro-Landry “voter education materials” prior to the debate, according to the group’s press release.
FreedomWorks for America is the Super PAC — political action committee — that is a project of FreedomWorks, which is a Washington, D.C.,-based conservative advocacy group that helped the tea-party movement become more organized a few years ago. Let’s call FreedomWorks the elephant in the room.
Regardless, Lafayette residents, it seems you won’t have a congressional debate prior to Nov. 6. If there’s a runoff, then better luck next time.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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