Chris John Ponders Return

Posted May 4, 2005 at 6:48pm

Former Rep. Chris John (D) is coming under heavy pressure from the House Democrats’ campaign arm to seek the Louisiana seat he vacated in 2004.

But he insisted Wednesday no final decision has been made on a bid.

“The [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] wants me to run,” John said. “They have called me [about] a hundred times.”

John insisted that he “hasn’t thought much about it yet” but did acknowledge: “I am going to keep that option open.”

DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said that “of course the DCCC has been talking to [John] about this race but more importantly so have the people of Louisiana.”

Should John choose to challenge freshman Rep. Charles Boustany (R) in the western Louisiana seat he held from 1996 until 2004, the race will immediately become one of the premier contests of the 2006 cycle.

With the specter of a John candidacy looming, Boustany is bringing in a political heavy hitter of his own: Vice President Cheney is scheduled to hold a fundraiser for Boustany in Lake Charles, La., on May 13.

That event is likely to significantly bolster Boustany’s campaign coffers, in which he had $132,000 left to spend at the end of March.

John ended March $183,000 in debt following an unsuccessful Senate run last year.

John, who is currently working as a lobbyist at Arent Fox in Washington, D.C., has made no secret of his interest in returning to politics. But he said it was too soon to make a decision on another candidacy.

“We will cross the bridge when we get to it, and we are not there yet,” John said.

John has made several trips to the state since becoming a lobbyist. Ostensibly those visits are on behalf of clients, but they also allow him to keep up his political profile.

Just two years ago, John’s political future was bright. He was preparing for an open-seat Senate race with the full backing of Sen. John Breaux (D), who retired in 2004.

Despite heavy backing from national Democrats, John’s campaign never hit its stride.

He was unable to keep other prominent Democrats out of the race and failed to emerge as the leading alternative to Rep. David Vitter, the lone Republican seeking the Senate seat.

Much of John’s strategy was aimed at keeping Vitter below 50 percent in the all-party primary on Nov. 2 and unifying the Democratic base behind him for a one-on-one runoff against Vitter a month later.

That calculus failed on Election Day when Vitter won 51 percent to John’s 29 percent. State Treasurer John Kennedy (D) took 15 percent, and state Sen. Arthur Morrell (D) took 3 percent.

One Democratic strategist familiar with the state’s politics said most party insiders in Louisiana don’t blame John for the defeat.

“That race was won and lost because there was a second strong Democrat in there,” the source said. “Insiders in Louisiana will blame the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] for that. They were asleep at the wheel until it was too late.”

While acknowledging that John would be a formidable candidate, Glen Bolger, who handled Boustany’s polling in 2004, pointed out that the former Democratic Member did not even win a majority of votes in the 7th district during his Senate run. John took 45.4 percent to Vitter’s 45.1 percent in the 7th district.

“That is pretty darn unimpressive,” concluded Bolger, a partner in the GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies.

Meanwhile in the southwestern Louisiana seat that John had left behind, Boustany, a cardiovascular surgeon, won a surprisingly easy 10-point runoff victory over state Sen. Willie Mount (D).

“Democrats threw all they could at Charles and didn’t really put a dent in him,” Bolger said. “Voters like him.”

Boustany’s win broke a three-decade Democratic stranglehold on the 7th district, a period in which John, Breaux and legendary — and now imprisoned — Gov. Edwin Edwards held the House seat. (Boustany has his own Edwards connection; he is married to the former governor’s niece.)

Despite the district’s Democratic pedigree, it has been trending Republican for much of the past decade. President Bush won the district by 21 percent in 2004, an improvement on his 13-point win four years earlier.