The mud is starting to fly in Louisiana in a fierce Republican Member-vs.-Member race that pits a close ally of Speaker John Boehner’s against a fiery tea-party-backed rookie.
On paper, it’s Rep. Charles Boustany’s race to lose. As chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, Boustany commands considerable fundraising resources and holds a $1 million edge in cash on hand.
But Rep. Jeff Landry is waging a lively battle, fighting off Boustany’s attacks and winning endorsements from the right.
The race has the feel of a GOP primary, but five candidates — three Republicans, a Democrat and a Libertarian — will be on the ballot Nov. 6, given Louisiana’s campaign rules. If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the top two candidates would face off in a runoff election in December.
The rules are helping Landry.
Boustany could bleed votes to Ron Richard, the Democratic candidate who filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission on Aug. 27. “The votes [Richard] takes away would tend to be Boustany’s,” said John Maginnis, the publisher of LAPolitics Weekly.
And a low-turnout runoff would “not be in Boustany’s interest,” Maginnis said, because the activists that would show up to vote are siding with Landry.
A recent episode shows how Boustany is losing among the hard right, including from a tea party chapter in the heart of his political base that is teaming up with Washington, D.C.-based FreedomWorks to help Landry with phone banks and other efforts.
At a Sept. 17 meeting at Fezzo’s Restaurant in Crowley, La., Boustany made a hard pitch on how conservative he is to members of the Acadia Parish Republican Executive Committee, touting his support for gun rights and an instance where he broke to the right of former President George W. Bush.
But the pitch fell flat, particularly on the Second Amendment. “We knew he grew up downtown in a rich household — we just weren’t buying it,” one elected member of the committee said. Ten minutes after Boustany left, the board voted to endorse Landry, according to the source, who added that Boustany’s pitch actually cost him votes.
Behind the scenes, many of the heavyweights in the Republican establishment are backing Boustany, Maginnis said.
Boustany has drawn fire for comments he made in 2011 that he wouldn’t again sign a pledge organized by Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, not to raise taxes. “We have to have the flexibility to do the right thing for the American people,” he told the Lafayette Advertiser editorial board in August 2011.
Joyce Linde, the president of Geaux Free TPL, a tea party chapter in Lafeyette, said Landry’s embrace of the Norquist pledge was a top reason her group sided with Landry.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.