WASHINGTON — The intra-party race between incumbent U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, is officially on now that Landry announced his candidacy late Monday.
The long-expected announcement comes amid ongoing sniping between the two who have to run against each other in order to stay in the U.S. House. Congressional redistricting cost Louisiana a seat because of stagnant growth in population during the past decade.
Referring to Boustany as the “D.C. establishment candidate,” Landry announced at the Sugar Mill Pond Amphitheater in Youngsville, “The only way to fix that is to send real conservatives to Congress and not re-elect career politicians. And it is why I am announcing right here tonight — right now — that I am running for re-election …”
The redrawn 3rd District makes up southwestern Louisiana, including much of Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes. The political race with the Nov. 6 open primary election does not yet have any announced Democratic contenders.
Landry, a 41-year-old politician, lawyer and businessman, rode the tea party wave in Louisiana in 2010 to defeat former Louisiana House Speaker Hunt Downer for the congressional seat.
Boustany, a 56-year-old heart surgeon, has eight years in Congress, and is noted for his ties with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the party leadership. Boustany said he has “never wavered” in his re-election plans and will continue to focus on his accomplishments and conservative record representing southwestern Louisiana.
“The fundamental issue … is an issue of trust, of character and proven leadership that can get things done,” Boustany said Monday in a phone interview.
“It’s important to have good relationships with other members of Congress, including the leadership, to get things done,” Boustany said. “It’s not sufficient to give speeches and have bumper-sticker politics.”
Landry, with his thick Cajun accent, gained his most fame nationally when he held a “Drilling = Jobs” sign during a speech by President Barack Obama.
While Landry noted he has 16 months experience compared with Boustany’s eight years, he argued he has established a record as a “hard-working and determined” conservative.
“I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and that’s what we need to turn this country around,” Landry said in an interview after his announcement.
Pearson Cross, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science chairman, said the Boustany-Landry battle will represent “one of the hottest races in the country.”
Boustany is the favorite because most of the new district is made up of his existing 7th District and because moderates and Democrats likely will lean toward him, Cross said, unless a strong Democrat enters the race. Boustany is not necessarily a moderate, Cross added, just less conservative than the far-right-leaning Landry.
“He’s an ambitious man,” Cross said of Landry. “It’s hard to believe he’d just walk away. He a tenacious, not to say pugnacious, individual.”
Landry’s announcement now gives him time to accelerate his fundraising, Cross said, noting that he expects Landry to eventually raise about $2.5 million compared with $3 million or so for Boustany.
Landry raised more than $325,000 for the first three months of 2012, compared to the more than $346,000 raised in the first quarter by Boustany.
While Landry has now raised more than $1 million total, Boustany still holds a solid edge in cash on hand for campaigning with more than $1.5 million reported compared to Landry’s $820,000 as of the end of March.
Boustany had a fundraising head start because Landry largely depleted his funds during his successful 2010 race.
Boustany is focusing thus far on his accomplishments, such as the pending RAMP Act legislation that would direct more federal dollars toward dredging and port projects, including dollars for Louisiana waterways.
Landry is already attacking Boustany for voting for a congressional pay raise years ago and for the 2011 vote to raise the national debt ceiling to avoid a government shutdown. Landry is using that vote against Boustany as a willingness to increase the national debt.
Last year, Landry participated in forums with U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in areas that are part of the new 3rd District to discuss their opposition to the debt-ceiling vote.
But the Washington, D.C.-based Roll Call publication and Public Citizen, which is a political watchdog and consumer rights advocacy group, took aim at Landry on Monday morning for spending taxpayer dollars on advertisements that touted the forums outside of his current district.
More than $30,000 in federal funds was spent by Landry in the third quarter of 2011 on radio ads that, in part, advertised forums Landry participated in with Vitter, who has actively backed Landry in the past.
Congressmen are not supposed to use taxpayer-funded office funds to pay for event notifications outside of their districts that do not directly serve their constituents, although the House Administration Committee and its franking commission can make exceptions.
In a phone interview, Craig Holman of Public Citizen called it an “abuse” of Landry’s power that is “somewhat unique” because of redistricting.
But Holman said he expects nothing will happen to Landry without “public pressure” because the federal franking commission “very, very rarely” enforces the rules. “They’d just rather turn a blind eye,” Holman said.
Landry’s office quickly argued that no rules were violated and that Landry’s ads simply noted his schedule, which included some events out of his district.
“As detailed in the radio ad, Congressman Landry was Sen. Vitter’s guest at the debt forum. Congressman Landry is proud to have represented his constituents and, like Sen. Vitter, vote against the Washington debt deal …” Landry’s communications director, Millard Mulé, said in an email.
For his part, Boustany called the issue a “very serious” matter that “needs to be thoroughly investigated.”