Committees Ante Up for La. Runoffs

Posted November 17, 2004 at 6:30pm

The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent nearly $1.7 million in independent expenditures on the two runoff House races in Louisiana since Nov. 2, reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission revealed.

That spending total eclipsed the efforts by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had disbursed roughly $936,000 in the two weeks since Election Day.

In the southeastern 3rd district, BellSouth lobbyist Billy Tauzin III (R), son of retiring Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), is taking on former state Rep. Charlie Melancon (D). In the southwestern 7th district, heart surgeon Charles Boustany (R) is squaring off against state Sen. Willie Mount (D).

“These are two races we believe we can win,” said NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti. “This gives us an opportunity to finish the ’04 cycle with a bang.”

Greg Speed, Forti’s counterpart at the DCCC, retorted that Democrats are “competitive” on the airwaves in both races and have the “added benefit of having much stronger candidates.”

Speed added that Democratic Members are not worried about the committee’s spending, despite the $10 million line of credit the DCCC took out to fund its campaign activities in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

“The Caucus is absolutely committed to winning these races,” he said.

In both the 3rd and the 7th districts, none of the candidates was able to secure more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 2 all-party primary.

Due to Louisiana election law, that development meant that the two top votegetters in each race face off against each other in a Dec. 4 runoff.

The vast majority of both committees’ spending came on television buys in the 3rd district, which the elder Tauzin is vacating after holding the seat since 1980.

The NRCC has expended $1.4 million on television ads blanketing the district, which is partially covered by the pricey New Orleans media market. The GOP committee is currently running two ads, which paint Melancon as a liberal.

In one, Melancon is taken to task for supporting higher taxes and fees “more than 30 times.” The second ad points out that Melancon voted to cut education funding in the state by more than $3 million and, more importantly, voted to allow sex education to be taught to third-graders.

“Wrong for third-graders, wrong for the whole family,” intones a narrator at the end of the ad.

The DCCC has spent $520,000 on ads in the 3rd district attacking Tauzin III, the 30-year-old son of the current Congressman.

The committee’s ads make the argument that Tauzin is too young and inexperienced to come to Congress, noting that he transferred from the Coast Guard Academy and has denied being a lobbyist although he is registered as one with the state.

The DCCC has also spent $141,000 on direct mail hitting Tauzin; the NRCC has done no mail, although the committee did pay Public Opinion Strategies $20,000 for a campaign poll on Nov. 15.

Internal polling for both sides shows the race close, not a surprise given the near-even split of the vote in a district where President Bush won just 52 percent in 2000 — his second worst showing in the state’s seven Congressional districts.

Across the state in the 7th district, which is anchored by the population centers of Lafayette in the east and Lake Charles in the west, spending between the parties has been far more equitable.

The NRCC has disbursed $293,000 overall compared to $273,000 spent by the DCCC.

Again, nearly all of the NRCC’s investment in the seat is on television ads calling Mount a liberal.

Approximately $279,000 has been spent on the ad campaign, the latest iteration of which argues that Mount has refused to sign a “no new taxes” pledge in addition to voting to raise taxes on businesses and extending sales taxes on food and utilities during her time in the state Legislature.

“What a politician has done in the past says a lot about what they’ll do in the future,” says the ad’s narrator.

Aside from its media campaign, the NRCC’s only other independent expenditure in the

7th was $15,000 on a poll by the Tarrance Group on Nov. 15.

Both sides acknowledge that Boustany has a lead at this point though Republicans believe he is comfortably ahead while Democrats see Mount within striking distance.

The DCCC has spent $210,000 on television in the 7th, accusing Boustany of supporting tax cuts for the rich that would bleed the Social Security trust fund.

The Democratic campaign arm has also dropped $64,000 on direct mail in the district.

The seat is being vacated by Rep. Chris John (D), who ran unsuccessfully for Senate this year.