DSCC Gets Tough

Committee Backs John in Effort to Chase Kennedy From La. Race

Posted July 2, 2004 at 5:29pm

Playing their trump card in the Louisiana Senate race, leaders of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee publicly backed Rep. Chris John (D) late last week even as state Treasurer John Kennedy (D) continued to assert he would remain in the contest.

“We are behind Chris John,” said DSCC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. “We think he has the critical mix of experience, ideas and the ability to connect with voters of all political stripes that will be critical to winning the Senate election in Louisiana.”

The DSCC’s strongest statement to date on John’s behalf comes just a week after the Congressman received the backing of retiring Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) as well as several other statewide elected Democratic officials, including Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.), Minority Whip Harry Reid (Nev.) and Breaux held a fundraising event for Louisiana Senate 2004, a joint fundraising committee for John and the DSCC on May 22 in New Orleans.

Kennedy’s campaign insisted that the endorsements would have little effect on his campaign. Fundraising, the best sign of viability at this point in the cycle, has been relatively unaffected, which will be reflected in mid-July when financial reports are due at the Federal Election Commission, Kennedy’s allies argued.

“Look at our campaign finance report when it comes out,” said Kennedy consultant Roy Fletcher.

Kennedy campaign manager Jason Redmond said that his candidate would near the $769,000 he raised from Jan. 1 to March 31. None of Kennedy’s money this quarter will come from his own pocket.

“What other politicians do in this race is their business,” said Redmond.

State Rep. Arthur Morrell, who is black, is also running on the Democratic side but is given little chance at winning.

The past three months have seen a decided effort by John, Breaux and other establishment Democrats to dry up Kennedy’s fundraising, especially in Washington.

Kennedy “has raised every penny he is going to raise,” said a Democratic lobbyist with Louisiana ties aiding John. “He has no D.C. or national money-raising capabilities.”

For his part, Breaux said that he has never spoken to Kennedy or any of his close associates about the state treasurer leaving the race but said endorsing John was a “no brainer.”

Kennedy “has every right to run,” said Breaux. “He knows my position.”

The inability of national Democrats to clear the way for John stands in stark contrast to their successes in other top-tier, open-seat Senate races like South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado and Oklahoma. In each case, DSCC officials made clear they favored a single candidate and were able to persuade other big-name Democrats from making the race.

National Democrats are hoping the South Carolina Senate race provides a blueprint for how the Louisiana race will play out over the coming month. In that contest, the DSCC clearly favored state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum as its nominee, although its leaders never officially backed her.

Urged on by several influential state Democrats, including former state party Chairman Dick Harpootlian, Columbia Mayor Bob Coble (D) entered the race last year as well.

Coble initially said he couldn’t imagine a scenario under which he would not make the gate for the Senate race, but he dropped out less than three months later.

His departure came just eight days after he and Tenenbaum filed their October quarterly reports with the FEC. Tenenbaum raised $327,000 in the period to just $115,000 for Coble; she also had $317,000 on hand compared to a meager $81,000 for the mayor.

“Money is always a factor,” acknowledged Coble soon after his decision.

Tenenbaum cruised to a June 8 primary victory over an unknown candidate; Republicans were forced into a June 22 runoff, which was won convincingly by Rep. Jim DeMint.

The comparison between the races is not perfect, however.

Kennedy met with considerably more success than Coble did in his first three months of active fundraising though John still outraised him by more than $400,000. Kennedy’s total included a $250,000 loan.

John also had a huge cash-on-hand edge, ending March with $2.1 million in the bank to Kennedy’s $709,000.

The nature of the one-of-a-kind Louisiana open primary also complicates any attempt at direct comparison.

Under the state’s election laws, all Senate candidates run on the Nov. 2 ballot. If no one takes 50 percent of the vote, the two top votegetters, irrespective of their party affiliation, compete in a Dec. 4 runoff.

Republicans appear united behind Rep. David Vitter, the only announced GOPer in the race, and he is all but assured of a spot in a runoff.

“Vitter will surely be in first [place], so he can save some money to be used in the runoff,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.), who predicted that Vitter would “make history” by winning the Senate seat. Louisiana is the only state in the country that has not elected a Republican to the Senate.

Vitter on Friday reported raising $1.3 million from April 1 to June 30, and said he had $3.4 million in the bank.

Both ex-Gov. Buddy Roemer, a Democrat turned Republican, and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke have been mentioned as Republican candidates, but neither is likely to enter the race. Roemer was expected to make a decision on the race as soon as this past weekend, after Roll Call went to press.

With Vitter continuing to gain strength, John’s campaign advisers have repeatedly said they believe Democrats would strengthen their hand by uniting behind him.

“As Chris has said before, everyone has a right to run, but clearly a smaller field helps simply because you don’t have Democrats attacking each other,” said John campaign manager Scott Arceneaux.

Rumors about Kennedy’s political future have flown hot and heavy in Louisiana political circles over the past month; the most discussed possibility centered on Kennedy dropping out of the Senate race to challenge 6th district Rep. Richard Baker (R).

Redmond vehemently denied the rumors, saying that neither Kennedy nor any of his confidants had “gotten any such overtures.”

He said the candidate had “no interest” in any other races. None of the sources alleging that such a recruitment campaign were under way would speak for the record.

Numerous independent polls have shown Vitter in the lead — and in the mid 30s — while Kennedy and John score in the upper teens, with the state treasurer typically slightly ahead of the 7th district Congressman.

Pointing to those surveys, Kennedy allies have argued that if anyone should drop from the race it should be John.

Breaux said that his choice to throw his political weight behind John had little to do with the current state of polling in the race.

“I didn’t make a decision on who to endorse based on who is ahead or behind in the polls,” said Breaux. “It was based on Chris’ qualifications and abilities.”