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A Look at Louisiana

Any look at the future of Louisiana politics necessarily begins with Sen. John Breaux (D), the tennis-loving, Cajun country legislator, who also happens to be the most popular politician in the Bayou State.

[IMGCAP(1)] Breaux has held federal office since 1972, but now, at age 58, he is contemplating not running for a fourth Senate term in 2004.

The political careers of a number

of other elected officials may rest on Breaux’s decision. If he runs, he is a near-lock for re-election.

“Unless he does something monument-

ally stupid or illegal, he is untouchable,” said a Louisiana Democrat familiar with the delegation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

That statement echoes former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards (D), who boasted that the only way he would lose his 1983 race “would be to be caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”

Breaux, coincidentally, is a protege of Edwards’.

Edwards served in the House from 1965 to 1972, when he left for a successful gubernatorial run. He was re-elected to the state’s highest office in 1975, 1983 and 1991.

Edwards is now serving a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges.

Breaux worked as a district manager in Edwards’ Congressional office. When Edwards left to run for governor, Breaux replaced him in the House, where he stayed until 1986, when he defeated then-Rep. Henson Moore (R) in a Senate runoff.

Until Breaux makes a decision on 2004, the rumor mill will continue to churn.

If Breaux retires, Reps. David Vitter (R) and Chris John (D) are considered the most likely candidates for the open Senate seat.

“Chris John is seen by Democrats and even some Republicans as a logical successor if Breaux leaves,” said one Louisiana Democratic strategist.

John has held the western Louisiana 7th district seat since 1996, when he emerged at the head of a crowded primary field and won a runoff against another Democrat with 53 percent. John’s profile as a leader among the Blue Dogs, a group of moderate to conservative House Democrats, makes him an appealing statewide candidate.

Vitter is a relative newcomer to the House but an extremely fast riser. He won a special election to replace former Rep. Bob

Livingston (R) in May 1999 in a New Orleans-area district and was expected to run for governor this year.

He bowed out in May 2002, citing a need to address “family concerns,” and transferred more than $700,000 from a state account that he had set up for a governor’s race back to his federal campaign account.

Although Vitter’s 1st district is solidly Republican, a John Senate candidacy would create a highly competitive race in his 7th district, where George W. Bush would have won 54 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election.

The consensus candidate for the GOP there would be state Sen. Mike Michot, who has represented Lafayette in the Legislature since 1995.

“He is a really brilliant guy and a hell of a fundraiser,” said Jason Hebert, executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party.

Michot elevated his profile in the 2002 Senate race between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell (R) by raising large amounts of money for Terrell out of the Lafayette area, according to one informed source.

Democrats also have the ability to field a strong candidate in the event John vacates the seat, according to state party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux.

“We have an extremely deep bench there,” he said.

The most frequently mentioned names are state Rep. Gil Pinac (D) and state Sen. Willie Mount (D).

Pinac is part of the Crowley, La., political machine that produced Edwards, Breaux and John, and as a result might have first crack at the race. He was elected to the state Senate in 1995 and re-elected in 1999.

Mount, who is a woman, was the mayor of Lake Charles from 1993 to 1999, when she won a state Senate seat.

Rep. Rodney Alexander (D), who was elected to the 5th district in a runoff in December, is likely to face a serious challenge in a district that Bush would have carried with 56 percent.

“He will be one of the top targets, if not the top target, for Republicans,” John said in an interview Thursday.

Alexander led the field in the Nov. 5 primary but was seen as a huge underdog in the Dec. 7 runoff against Lee Fletcher (R), former chief of staff to then-Rep. John Cooksey (R). Yet he eked out a 74-vote victory, providing a major boost to House Democrats downtrodden after their losses in the November elections.

Among the Republican names being mentioned against Alexander in 2004 are Cooksey and former Rep. Clyde Holloway, who placed third in the November primary.

Holloway held the 8th district seat from 1986 to 1992, when he was defeated by Rep. Richard Baker (R) in a redistricting-forced race. He severely damaged Fletcher’s runoff campaign by publicly declaring that “[Fletcher] will do anything to win and he scares me.” Those comments were prominently featured in Alexander’s advertising.

Despite his defeat, Fletcher is also seen as a possible candidate, as is state Rep. Mike Walsworth (R).

The other four Congressional seats in the delegation, which are split evenly between the parties, are unlikely to change hands until the current Members retire or run for another office, sources on both sides of the aisle agreed.

Term limits in the state Legislature, however, may provide an impetus to ambitious state officials looking for a promotion; roughly one-third of the legislators will be forced out of office in 2007.

Baker’s 6th district is somewhat marginal, but after a very tough race in 1998, he has strengthened his grip on it.

Centered in Baton Rouge, the district would have given Bush 54 percent in the 2000 presidential election. Redistricting made the lines slightly more favorable to the GOP than when Baker edged attorney Marjorie McKeithen (D) 51 percent to 49 percent three cycles ago.

Although no big-name Democrats are likely to challenge Baker, who is 54, there are a number of candidates waiting in the wings when he decides to leave the House.

The most likely candidate for Democrats is state Rep. William Daniel, who has held a Baton Rouge-area district since 1995.

“[Daniel] is the kind of guy who could have knocked [Baker] off in 1998,” said one Democratic observer.

Daniel also has significant personal wealth, which could have been a major factor against Baker, who outspent McKeithen by a 2-1 margin in the 1998 race.

Other Democrats mentioned are state Rep. Don Cazayoux, who is from New Roads and was elected in 1999, state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, lobbyist Kyle Ardoin and former state Rep. Sean Reilly, who is heir to the Lamar Advertising fortune.

State Sen. Jay Dardenne is the leading Republican likely to try to succeed Baker. Dardenne was elected to the state Senate in 1991.

Other prospective GOP candidates include state Sen. Clo Fontenot, who has strong crossover appeal and a good relationship with the labor community, and state Rep. Mike Futrell.

Futrell has been active in the Baton Rouge political scene for many years, said Hebert, the Republican Party executive director.

“[Futrell] is a dynamic force and a good, strong conservative,” Hebert added.

An undeveloped but potentially interesting opening could come in the 3rd district, where Rep. Billy Tauzin (R) has been floated as a potential successor to Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti.

Tauzin is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; when asked about the possibility of leaving his seat, a Tauzin spokesman recently told Roll Call: “Billy has a job and he’s not looking to take anyone else’s.”

Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.

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