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Queue Begins to Form for Melancon’s Open Seat

Few things create more interest in a potential candidate than when Republicans and Democratic operatives drop the same name when discussing recruitment prospects.

It happened last cycle in Alabama’s southeast 2nd district before now-Rep. Bobby Bright eventually decided to run as a Democrat, and it’s happening again in Louisiana’s 3rd district, where both parties are bracing for another open-seat showdown.

The district soared to the top of GOP target lists late last month after three-term Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) formally announced his plans to run for the Senate in 2010.

Now the man at the heart of much recruitment speculation is Scott Angelle, a Democrat who was named by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in late 2007 to serve as Louisiana’s secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. It’s his second stint at that post — he also served under former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Beyond his natural resource management credentials, Angelle has political chops.

The former St. Martin Parish president was tapped earlier this year by Jindal to serve as his legislative liaison.

“People think of him as governor material in the future,” said John Maginnis, who pens a weekly newsletter on Louisiana politics.

And while Maginnis said Angelle has earned the support of many Republicans through his work for Jindal, the Bayou State rising star certainly has a future in either party.

“He could either be the new [former Democratic Sen.] John Breaux or the new Republican star,” he said.

Angelle could not be reached for comment last week, but in the few public statements he’s made on the subject he’s been noncommittal about whether to run for the 3rd district seat and which party he would run with.

Republicans in Washington, D.C., and south Louisiana have been crowing about their chances in the conservative district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won with 61 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election. Democrats prefer to point to Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) nearly 10-point margin of victory in the 3rd district last year.

The last time the 3rd district seat was open, Melancon beat the son of the district’s outgoing Congressman in the closest election of the 2004 cycle. In the open primary that year, Melancon took just 24 percent of the vote to Billy Tauzin III’s (R) 32 percent but ended up winning the runoff by 569 votes.

Regardless of which party he decided to run in, Angelle would have geographic and electoral issues to consider if he wants to replace Melancon.

While Angelle’s work with the Department of Natural Resources is known throughout the coastal district which has been battered by hurricanes in recent years, his base of support lies in the 3rd’s northwest corner in St. Martin Parish.

Candidates from a more centralized location would probably have an easier time introducing themselves across the 12,700-square-mile district that lies in the shadow of three of the state’s largest media markets.

Meanwhile, there are candidates being mentioned for the race who would start with a more centralized base. Democratic state Rep. Damon Baldone, who is term-limited out of his House seat at the end of his current term, represents parts of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

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