WASHINGTON — It is rare when incumbent Republican congressmen are forced to run against each other, but that is exactly what redistricting has given Louisiana in the race between Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia.
The battle to represent southwestern Louisiana pits Boustany, the more mild-mannered surgeon who is allied with the Republican leadership, against Landry, the younger firebrand who rode the tea-party wave to Congress two years ago.
There are three others in the 3rd Congressional District race — Democrat Ron Richard, Republican Bryan Barrilleaux and Libertarian Jim Stark — who had spent about a combined $30,000 on the race by the end of September. Boustany and Landry had spent a combined $3 million, which has bought a lot of mudslinging.
Boustany has the fundraising lead and is considered the favorite in the Nov. 6 open primary election, said political analyst Pearson Cross, who chairs the University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science department.
But Landry’s chances would increase in a likely December runoff when there are fewer overall voters and a higher percentage of chronic ideological voters going to the polls, Cross said.
While Boustany and Landry are both conservatives with similar political stances on most issues — “Neither is going to win in San Francisco,” Cross said — Landry has tried to paint Boustany as more “liberal” while Boustany has said Landry lacks substance and can only fall back on “bumper sticker politics.”
Cross said Boustany is “quietly competent” and a “serious guy” who has made allies in Washington and put Louisiana in a good place to benefit from his spot chairing the oversight subcommittee of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
“He’s a hard worker,” Cross said of Boustany. “He studies the issues. He’s pretty well liked and even Democrats don’t despise him.”
While most of the redrawn district is Boustany’s turf, Landry is developing sizable support, Cross said. Many people know of Landry primarily as the “flamboyant” Cajun politician who held the “Drilling equals jobs” sign while President Barack Obama was addressing Congress, Cross said, but that perception is evolving.
“There’s genuineness in Jeff Landry that people in southwestern Louisiana are becoming familiar with,” Cross said.
Landry would agree with that assessment. Considered the tea party candidate, Landry said he also has the support of the vast majority of the parish Republican executive committees in the district. He has worked as a sheriff’s deputy, lawyer, businessman, legislative aide and served in the Louisiana National Guard.
In 2007, Landry ran for the state Senate and narrowly lost to then-Democrat Troy Hebert, another a smooth-talking Cajun. In 2010, Landry came back and easily defeated former Louisiana House Speaker Hunt Downer for a seat in Congress.
“I’ve been the underdog every time I’ve run,” Landry said. “And I like the odds I’m running on now.”
Landry said he is fighting both the establishment Democrats and Republicans in Congress who have built the federal deficit and that Boustany is part of the problem.
“Charles is part of the culture that fights for the next election and not the next generation,” Landry said.
Boustany, the grandson of immigrants to Louisiana from Lebanon, said he is inspired by his grandparents and parents who have always been civically involved in the Lafayette community. His father, also named Charles, was a longtime Republican coroner for the parish.
With 30 years of health care experience, Boustany said he ran for Congress as a political newcomer after retiring as a surgeon because of back problems.
“I was deeply concerned about what was happening in health care,” said Boustany, who is a leading opponent of Obama’s health care law.
“I felt I could bring an experienced, thoughtful perspective to Congress,” Boustany said, as both a surgeon and medical practice owner. Boustany’s top pet project this year has been his RAMP Act to ensure the $7 billion in the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust fund is spent on much-needed port and river-dredging projects in Louisiana and elsewhere. Instead, the fund is raided for other spending each year.
Boustany and the Louisiana delegation achieved only partial success when it was included in the federal transportation bill signed into law this summer but with much of the teeth taken out.
“Clearly, there’s more work to do,” Boustany said.
Landry, meanwhile, has had several amendments pass the U.S. House only to see much of the work stall or die in the Senate. Some of his top efforts include bills or amendments to ensure offshore energy infrastructure is built by Americans.Other efforts by Landry that have made progress include trying to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use more practical wetlands mitigation practices for Louisiana. “I have proven that I can work with Democrats and Republicans and never compromise my principles,” Landry said.
When it comes to campaign dollars, Boustany had a head start after Landry’s 2010 race. Boustany has raised nearly $3 million this election cycle and he has spent more than $2 million. At the end of September, he had $1.27 million in remaining cash on hand.
Likewise, Landry has raised more than $1.75 million and spent about $1 million with more than $750,000 in reserves. But Landry has outside support from tea-party-related Super PACs such as the Washington, D.C.-based FreedomWorks for America political action committee that is spending on his behalf.
It is a “charged” race, Cross said, that is only heating up more.