Cassidy launches U.S. Senate bid

Baton Rouge Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy announced Wednesday that he is running for the Senate and he’s taking the communications director of U.S. Sen. David Vitter with him.

The change in staffing is not a sign that Vitter, R-La., is backing Cassidy if other prominent Republicans decide to enter the race, said Joel DiGrado, who will serve as Cassidy’s new campaign manager. Vitter would back Cassidy, if it is a two-person race between Cassidy and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, he said.

Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and faces reelection in November 2014.

“He (Vitter) likes Bill. He just doesn’t want to get involved, if there’s a heavily contested primary,” DiGrado said Wednesday.

Other than working for Vitter, who has a formidable political organization in Louisiana, DiGrado said he also has worked with former GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum.

Cassidy had previously hired Timmy Teepell, who is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top political consultant. But Cassidy parted ways with Teepell earlier this year.

Other Republicans said to be considering the Senate race include U.S. Rep. John Fleming, of Minden; former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, of New Iberia; and state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge.

Cassidy, 55, is a physician and former state senator who first entered Congress in January 2009.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Cassidy said he “absolutely” wants the support of Fleming, Vitter, Jindal and any Democrats in the state.

“It really doesn’t matter who I’m running against; it matters who I’m running for,” Cassidy said. “It sounds maybe like rhetoric, but if I’m running for Louisiana voters, then I’m getting their support.”

But Cassidy is running against Landrieu, 57, and he is making the case that she is too liberal for Louisiana and too closely aligned with President Barack Obama. “Mary will say she supports the energy industry, but really she supports the president first,” he said.

While Cassidy acknowledged Landrieu has directed a lot of money toward Louisiana in the past, he argued that the era of congressional earmarks is over and that kind of argument is less relevant now.

Landrieu also put out a statement on Wednesday touting her record for Louisiana.

“I have a proven record of fighting and winning for Louisiana,” she stated. “Securing funds for coastal restoration, helping rebuild our state after destructive hurricanes, supporting our oil, gas and petrochemical industry, promoting small business start-ups and expansion in Louisiana — all of this I have done with great success. I’m proud to run on this record.”

Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk also stepped in to jab Cassidy.

“Bill Cassidy knows his only hope is to run a Jindalesque campaign of smoke and mirrors. His rhetoric is as empty as his record,” Handwerk said in a prepared statement.

“He cannot talk about anything he has done or accomplished in Congress because he repeatedly votes against Louisiana — be it hurricane relief or burdening the middle class with higher taxes — and for extremists in Washington.”

Cassidy made his official campaign announcement early Wednesday morning via an online video filmed with his wife, Laura.

In the video, Cassidy criticizes Landrieu for her support of the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, and he touts his support for a balanced federal budget and strong Second Amendment rights.

Cassidy has a war chest of about $2.4 million as of the end of March. Landrieu had $2.53 million in cash on hand at the end of the year and she is expected to have increased that total in the past three months.