The 2014 Senate race in Louisiana is shaping up to be one of the most competitive of the cycle and may ultimately determine which party commands that chamber’s majority.
But as national attention and campaign dollars converge on the contest, no one remains more interested or invested in that race than ambitious Louisiana politicians.
For Pelican State Republicans, the effort to topple three-term Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu creates a number of immediate opportunities down the ballot. For Democrats lower on the party ladder, a Landrieu victory would serve as a testament to their party’s endurance and electoral prospects in a politically changing state.
Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy entered the race against Landrieu earlier this year. The front-runner has already amassed $3.2 million in the bank for his bid. In the meantime, his solidly Republican House seat in the 6th District has caught the eye of several state legislators.
Republican state Sens. Erich Ponti, Hunter Greene and Richard Ward, a Democrat until just last week, are considering running, local sources said. The only announced candidate is software company owner Paul Dietzel, grandson of a former champion Louisiana State University football coach.
Former Rep. Jeff Landry, who lost a member-vs.-member race last year against Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., is also weighing the race. In a July interview with The Advertiser, Landry boasted Cassidy’s district has more of his former constituents than the district he sought in 2010.
But any GOP shake-up in 2014 will pale in comparison to what could happen the following year. Gov. Bobby Jindal is term-limited, and GOP Sen. David Vitter might run for his seat in 2015. If he runs, Vitter would likely be the favorite and leave vacant his Senate seat just a year before his re-election.
“If Vitter runs for Jindal’s seat, then you really have an interesting cast of characters running for Vitter’s seat,” said Pearson Cross, head of the political science department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
First, as governor, Vitter would appoint someone to serve out his final year in the Senate through 2016. Republicans named Landry, Boustany and Rep. John Fleming as possible contenders, either for the appointment or to run for a full term in 2016.
Any open House seat would likely attract many Republicans, especially after 2011 redistricting made all but one of the state’s six congressional districts safer terrain for the GOP. For example, Republican operatives named state Reps. Jeff Thompson and Alan Seabaugh as possible candidates in Fleming’s 4th District.
Louisiana Democrats are more concerned with the immediate electoral future: 2014.
“It’ll be a real big data point for anyone else who wants to run statewide,” said Bradley Beychok, a Democratic operative from Louisiana and president of Media Matters for America. Re-electing Landrieu “would reinvigorate the old guard of the party and show the new guard the path. It’s a test.”
A series of setbacks in the past few election cycles have left Landrieu as the only Democrat among the state’s nine statewide officials. Despite this grim figure, a number of candidates have shown promise and ambition, according to local Democrats.
They named state House Minority Leader John Bel Edwards, state Rep. Katrina Jackson and state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson as possible candidates for statewide or congressional seats.
Nonetheless, it may still be a an uphill battle for any Democrat running for higher office.
“There aren’t that many Democrats of stature anymore,” Cross said. “... Since Obama’s election in particular and the rise of the tea party, the state has really veered right. Looking down the road, I think Louisiana is going to be safely Republican for a while.”
Farm Team is a weekly, state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.