Washington Watch: Handicapping the 6th District race

Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race this year and the 2015 governor’s election loom over much of the state’s politicking, but 6th Congressional District campaigns are quietly picking up steam.

With U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, vacating his seat to challenge Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., there is a slowly evolving free-for-all to replace him.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, is the only elected official in the race, and he comes from the legislative seat that Cassidy once held. So, on paper, he is the frontrunner.

But he’ll have to fight some younger, fellow GOP business owners from Baton Rouge who are running as political newcomers, as well as a bevy of potential candidates still mulling whether to run.

Paul Dietzel II has not run for office since his student government days at LSU, but the 27-year-old Republican has made a dent by already raising close to $200,000 since being the first candidate to organize a campaign last year.

He is endorsed by former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who will be in Baton Rouge this week. Dietzel recently picked up the backing of former U.S. Reps. Henson Moore, R-Baton Rouge, and Bob Livingston, R-Metairie.

“Once he is elected to Congress, he’s going to rise quickly in that environment because, frankly, I don’t see an overabundance of talent like he has to bring to public service,” Livingston says in a video message.

It also doesn’t hurt that Dietzel has name recognition as the grandson of the legendary LSU football coach who died last year.

Another well-organized GOP newcomer is tax attorney and business owner Cassie Felder, who filed her paperwork to run in December but formally launched her campaign last week.

Felder moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge a few years ago, and quickly became active in the community, starting two businesses. She also was a member of the mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission that recommended the Capital Area Transit System tax that passed in 2012.

Other Republican candidates are Bob Bell, a retired Navy captain who is an activist and blogger with the Tea Party of Louisiana, and Norman Clark, a Republican and Navy veteran from Denham Springs who chairs Livingston Parish’s animal control advisory committee.

The only Democrat in the race, thus far, is LaPlace real estate broker Richard Dean Lieberman.

But prominent potential candidates from both parties are considering running.

The biggest name, of course, is former governor, convict and short-lived reality television star Edwin W. Edwards. The longtime Democratic governor may be unlikely to run at age 86, but he isn’t saying no just yet, either. State law precludes Edwards from running for governor before 2026. But he can run for federal office under the law.

His wife, Trina, said he will not comment on the race for now, but she said, “We are definitely discussing the possibility” and that he is receiving a lot of encouragement.

Asked about Edwards, Claitor said, “Hardly anything Gov. Edwards does surprises me.”

Out of the top GOP potentials, the biggest name might be former state Rep. Tony Perkins, R-Baker, who spends most of his time in Washington, D.C., as the president of the Family Research Council. Perkins has indicated he is strongly considering running, but his spokesman declined comment when asked for an update last week.

East Baton Rouge Parish School Board President David Tatman said he is still seriously considering entering the race as a Republican candidate. Tatman also runs a political consulting and lobbying firm. He said he expects to make a final decision in late February.

Tatman said he is meeting with constituents and plans to travel to Washington next month to meet with party officials and others “to discuss the potential and viability of my campaign.”

State Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, said he has decided against running, limiting the potential field .

Another candidate, GOP Metro Councilman Ryan Heck, had announced his plans to run for Congress, but he still has not filed with the Federal Election Commission. He did not respond to phone and email messages this past week.

As for the perceived frontrunner, Claitor, he is just getting warmed up.

Claitor said he is launching his campaign website this week and he has started his fundraising efforts.

He is still organizing his campaign team, but invitations recently went out for his first fundraising reception with an extensive host committee on Jan. 23 at the home of prominent Baton Rouge business owner Richard Lipsey.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.