Fleming opts out of Landrieu challenge

The path partially cleared Thursday for Rep. Bill Cassidy to emerge as the only prominent Republican to challenge the re-election of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu after GOP Rep. John Fleming opted out of joining the 2014 Senate race.

Fleming’s announcement comes one day after Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, became the first Republican to formally declare his candidacy for the U.S. Senate race.

Fleming, of Minden, said he wanted to avoid splintering the GOP support.

“For me to enter the race now would risk a contest between two experienced Republican congressmen, potentially offering Sen. Landrieu a path back to Washington. I can’t let that happen,” Fleming said as he bowed out. Fleming, who is arguably the most conservative member of the Louisiana congressional delegation, had openly considered for months running for the U.S. Senate as a more conservative option than Cassidy.

After Fleming made his decision known, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., offered his analysis of the race, although it falls just short of an outright endorsement for Cassidy.

“John is a real fighter, and I think his stature and role in the House will grow enormously,” Vitter said in a prepared statement. “His announcement also makes it clear that Bill Cassidy will be the single major conservative challenging Mary Landrieu. It should be a very competitive race, and one that will help decide whether (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid and Barack Obama continue to run the U.S. Senate.”

The other Republicans still considering joining the race are former Rep. Jeff Landry, of New Iberia, and state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge. Landry has indicated he expects to make a decision soon, but Chas Roemer criticized this week’s developments and said he may still consider running for a few more months.

“I’m still considering it. It sounds to me they made a deal in Washington, D.C. and that’s part of the problem,” Roemer said about the decisions by Cassidy and Fleming.

“What happened this week is exactly what’s wrong with politics in America today,” Roemer added.

If Roemer, the son of former Gov. Buddy Roemer, decides against running, he could, instead, aim at Cassidy’s U.S. House seat that is being vacated next year. Vitter’s communications director, Joel DiGrado, this week officially became Cassidy’s new campaign manager.

Cassidy on Wednesday said he “absolutely” wanted the support of Fleming, Vitter and others. Cassidy complimented Fleming on social media websites after his announcement. “Rep. Fleming is a great leader for his district, and I look forward to continuing to work close with him,” Cassidy stated.

Cassidy and Fleming are both physicians who entered Congress in 2009.

“My friend, Bill Cassidy, has long prepared and now stepped forward to challenge Mary, and he offers Louisiana’s voters a Republican alternative necessary in 2014 to replace a big-government Washington liberal,” Fleming added. “Therefore, with prayerful analysis, my family and I have decided to step aside for this Senate race to optimize the chance for Republicans to win this vital seat.”

Landrieu, who describes herself as a moderate Democrat, also put out a statement late Wednesday touting her record.

“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.”

Cassidy has a war chest of about $2.4 million as of the end of March. However, 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.