WASHINGTON — The 2014 Republican challenge against U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and her re-election campaign is beginning to heat up as several members of Congress and other potential candidates attempt to curry favor with party powerbrokers behind the scenes.
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, has joined the fray of potential challengers along with U.S. Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; John Fleming, R-Minden; former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia; and state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge.
Boustany defeated Landry by 21.8 percentage points in December in a runoff when the two were forced to run against each other because of redistricting. Now, Boustany is speaking out about possibly challenging Landrieu, too.
“We’ll take a good look at it and do our due diligence,” Boustany said.
“During Washington Mardi Gras and subsequently, I had a number of people approach me about running for Senate in 2014,” he said. “It all comes down to me — to take a deep breath after a 22-point victory — and how I could best serve the people of Louisiana and the country.”
Boustany, Cassidy and Fleming are all medical doctors. Cassidy, who has the largest campaign war chest thus far, and Fleming have openly flirted with a Senate run dating back to last year, although none of them has officially announced a Senate campaign. Roemer, the son of former Gov. Buddy Roemer, first openly acknowledged his interest earlier this month.
Boustany said one of the people who has reached out to him about possibly running is Baton Rouge contractor and political player Lane Grigsby, who previously supported Cassidy in his bids for the state Senate and then Congress.
Grigsby said he has called a few potential candidates and said he is not backing any one person for now. When asked if he is backing away from Cassidy at all, Grigsby said Cassidy would make a great Senate candidate.
Grigsby is financing polls the next couple of weeks to help determine who is in the best position to defeat Landrieu, although Grigsby said he is unsure if he will publicly release the polling data.
“There’s any awful lot of conversations going on,” he said.
Grigsby said it is critical that the Republican Party and political donors rally soon behind one candidate to challenge Landrieu.
“What we don’t need, very honestly, are two (Republican) candidates,” Grigsby said. “It’s going to be a very expensive race.”
“I’d like to have known two weeks ago,” he added.
Pearson Cross, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science department chairman, said he is “a bit surprised” that Boustany is considering jumping in because he is coming off a tough re-election race and because he is rising in influence in the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.
“I think he’s energized by his win, and I think he’s feeling confident,” Cross said.
However, Cassidy has a nearly $2 million lead on Boustany in fundraising because Boustany had to exhaust his campaign account to beat Landry in the most-expensive U.S. House race in state history. But Cassidy also recently broke ties with Timmy Teepell, the top political consultant for Gov. Bobby Jindal. Teepell was assisting Cassidy with his re-election last year.
“It’s clearly still open right now but, if there is a frontrunner, I think it’s Cassidy,” Cross said.
“I think Republicans are going to have a scrum right now — borrowing a term from rugby — and see who comes away with the ball,” he said.
Fundraising dollars and endorsements are all fervently being sought behind the scenes right now, Cross said.
While Landrieu is vulnerable as the top Democrat in a more-conservative state, Cross said, she has won three Senate races already. The Republican Party seems more determined than ever to defeat Landrieu, he said, but sitting congress members must be wary of the risks of giving up their own seats.
“Running for Senate is a graveyard for former congressmen,” Cross said.
For instance, if Boustany runs for the Senate and Landry does not, then Landry could run for the House seat that he just lost to Boustany.
Financially, Cassidy has a head start with more than $2 million in the bank at the end of 2012 after an easy re-election. Fleming trails with a war chest of nearly $500,000, but Fleming is the wealthiest member of the Louisiana delegation and could invest more personal dollars.
Boustany and Landry largely depleted their funds after combining to spend about $7 million in their race. Boustany had almost $200,000 in cash in hand at the end of the year. But he also proved his fundraising abilities by taking in more than $4.5 million in his last race. Landry had less than $70,000 at the end of the year.
Landrieu leads everyone though with more than $2.5 million in the bank.
New polling data collected this month by Public Policy Polling, of North Carolina, which conducts polls for Democrats and progressives, showed Landrieu in good shape thus far.
The polling data when matched up head to head showed Landrieu leading Boustany by 48 percent to 42 percent; leading Cassidy by 50 percent to 40 percent; leading Landry 48 percent to 39 percent; and leading Fleming 50 percent to 38 percent.
But all of the House members had “not sure” favorability ratings of close to 50 percent, meaning name recognition could have played a key part in the head-to-head matchups.