Barton Kicks Off D.C. Push for Tauzin III

Posted June 14, 2004 at 6:27pm

As Billy Tauzin III (R) makes his first trip to Washington this week as an announced candidate for Louisiana’s 3rd district seat, he will enjoy a welcome that many Members would envy.

Tauzin, a lobbyist with BellSouth in Louisiana, will be feted at a Capitol Hill fundraiser hosted by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (Texas) that will be attended by a number of Members, including Rep. Billy Tauzin II (R-La.) — the candidate’s father.

“Joe Barton is not just the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee,” said the elder Tauzin. “He is my friend and colleague.”

It is also a favor returned: When Barton’s son Brad ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002, Congressman Tauzin helped.

Barton took over the helm of the powerful committee at the end of February after Tauzin stepped down from the post, announcing that he would retire from the southeastern Louisiana district at the end of the 108th Congress.

Tauzin said that the event’s Member turnout would be relatively light because it conflicts with the White House picnic. The event was originally scheduled for last Wednesday but was rescheduled in the wake of former President Ronald Reagan’s death.

Tauzin has also penned a handwritten note to each of his Republican colleagues asking them to support his son’s bid.

“He is going to get a welcome from a great many people because he is my son,” Tauzin acknowledged. “But I can’t win it for him.”

Tauzin added that when Barton’s son ran unsuccessfully for a Texas House seat, he was happy to help.

Matt Gresham, a spokesman for Tauzin III, said only that the campaign has had “great encouragement both from House leadership and the Louisiana delegation.”

Despite Tauzin III’s extensive connections in the D.C. community, the other candidates seeking the southeastern Louisiana 3rd district seat say they have not noticed any slowing in their fundraising since his announcement.

“Little Billy being in or out is having no effect on Charlie’s fundraising,” said Casey O’Shea, campaign manager for former state Rep. Charlie Melancon (D).

Melancon, the most active candidate to date in the race, raised $323,000 with $310,000 in the bank as of March 31.

A spokesman for state Sen. Craig Romero’s (R) campaign said that Romero has not even reached out to the D.C. money community yet.

“Craig has a tremendous amount of support from other industries that aren’t related to D.C.,” said campaign manager Ricky Verret. “At some point we will look toward D.C., but the timing has to be right.”

The 3rd district is one of a handful of open seats seen as competitive between the parties. President Bush won it with 52 percent, but the area is traditionally Democratic — albeit conservative-minded. Congressman Tauzin was first elected as a Democrat in 1980 before switching parties 15 years later.

Tauzin III, 30, has never before sought political office.

The senior Tauzin cast his son’s D.C. visit as the first step in “making the Hill community regard him much more seriously as a potential winner.”

In spite of his newly minted candidacy, however, Tauzin III held a large lead in the only independent survey released since he officially entered the race May 22.

The poll, conducted by the Marketing Research Institute in late May, showed Tauzin leading the pack with 42 percent of the vote.

That survey attempted to make clear that Tauzin III was the son of the current Congressman to alleviate potential voter confusion.

Former state Senate President Sammy Nunez (D), who was part of a consortium that paid for the poll, took 20 percent.

At age 74, Nunez is mulling a political comeback after serving from 1964 to 1995 in the Louisiana Legislature.

Melancon received 7 percent in the survey, with 6 percent going to Romero, 3 percent to state Rep. Damon Baldon (D) and 1 percent to Charmaine Caccioppi, a former aide to ex-Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.).

Melancon, Romero and Caccioppi are all announced candidates. Baldon’s name is regularly mentioned as a possible contender, though neither he nor Nunez is expected to run.

Melancon quickly released his own poll, which was in the field May 19-23 testing 500 likely voters, in an attempt to counter the MRI numbers — a case weakened significantly by the campaign’s refusal to publish an initial ballot test in the race.

The polling memo by Anzalone-Liszt Research points out only that Melancon leads the field of announced Democrats on both the initial and informed ballot.

In what is painted as bad news for Tauzin III by pollster John Anzalone, 51 percent of voters have no opinion of him, and he has the highest unfavorable rating of any of the candidates tested at 12 percent.

“Billy Tauzin III is not his father,” concludes Anzalone.

Neither number seems particularly worrisome, however, as Tauzin III has done little campaigning in the district and his unfavorable rating remains relatively low.

Although Melancon’s campaign advisers are not willing to admit it publicly, they see the race as a two-man contest between themselves and Tauzin despite the fact that all the announced candidates will appear together on the Nov. 2 open primary ballot. If no one receives 50 percent, the two top votegetters, irrespective of party, will face off Dec. 4.

“Charlie is the only candidate with the resources and the momentum to make it into the” runoff, said O’Shea. “He has proven he is a strong and established fundraiser and the only one so far who has done so on the Democratic side.”

As evidenced by today’s Barton event, Tauzin III is not likely to struggle to raise money thanks to his father’s connections in national politics. One Republican lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while Tauzin has not heavily pressured the K Street community to give to his son yet, the Barton event makes it clear where establishment Washington is lining up in the race.

And while Tauzin can donate only $4,000 from his personal campaign committee and $10,000 from his Bayou Leadership PAC to his son, he has more than $1 million combined in those two accounts, which can be transferred to the National Republican Congressional Committee or to state and local GOP committees to boost his son’s campaign.

So far this cycle, Tauzin has given $45,000 to the NRCC.