Washington Watch: U.S. Senate race will open House seat

by jordan blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

The 2014 U.S. Senate race between incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, has begun. The next question is whether anyone else will attempt to muddle the two-person field.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., quickly made it clear, in his opinion, that “Bill Cassidy will be the single major conservative challenging Mary Landrieu” after Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, decided against running.

But other Republicans, including state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge, and former Rep. Jeff Landry, of New Iberia, are still weighing their options.

Even former Baton Rouge state Rep. Tony Perkins, who now heads the conservative Family Research Council in Washington, was floated as a potential candidate. Perkins finished a distant fourth when he challenged Landrieu in 2002.

Roemer made it clear he didn’t like how the sea was parted for Cassidy last week by Vitter and Fleming.

“I’m still considering it. It sounds to me they made a deal in Washington, D.C., and that’s part of the problem,” the son of former Gov. Buddy Roemer said.

Cassidy’s candidacy, however, also means he is vacating his 6th Congressional District seat that runs from north of Baton Rouge to south of Thibodaux. Roemer could instead opt to make that seat his target.

“I hadn’t even thought about it yet,” Roemer said of the possibility.

Whether Roemer is dwelling on it or not, several state lawmakers — and others — are already jockeying for position in the apparent 2014 U.S. House race, which doesn’t feature any clear-cut favorites.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, and state Reps. Hunter Greene and Erich Ponti, all Baton Rouge Republicans, are among several who are openly expressing interest and seeking to gain support.

“You would think the election was tomorrow,” Claitor said of the November 2014 election.

“I’m seriously considering it,” he said, before arguing that his top priority is the Louisiana legislative session that begins Monday.

It was Claitor who replaced Cassidy in the state Senate.

Greene, who previously considered running for the congressional seat in 2008, said the timing is better for him now in terms of his family and children. Greene took his stance beyond mere consideration.

“I’m intending to run. Everything is looking that way,” Greene said, touting his legislative, accounting and legal experience.

Likewise, Ponti is positioning himself as the “small-business conservative” who is the right fit for the district.

“I’m definitely considering the seat,” said Ponti, who broadened his name recognition somewhat during a failed bid for a state Public Service Commission seat.

Several others will consider running as well, and everyone seems to agree they expect a wide-open field of candidates, at least initially.

“There’s nobody in particular who has the quote-unquote right to run for the seat,” Greene said.

Because of congressional redistricting that went into effect in January, the 6th District is now more white and conservative than before, largely because much of northern Baton Rouge was splintered off into another district. So there’s no guarantee Cassidy’s successor will hail from East Baton Rouge Parish. But that also does not mean Democrats are ready to concede congressional races like they did last year. No Democrat ran against Cassidy last year.

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, for instance, said he is “very interested.”

“I would definitely be interested in it, but I haven’t considered it too much yet,” James said.

“But we’re definitely going to put up a candidate,” he added. “We’re not going to concede it.”

While the pieces are close to falling in place for a Landrieu-Cassidy Senate duel, the House race that emerges may resemble more of a Wild West shootout than anything else.

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