Tauzin III Eyes Dad’s House Seat

Posted February 25, 2004 at 6:35pm

As Rep. Billy Tauzin’s (R-La.) exit from Congress draws near, the Republican candidate expected to replace him is wavering, opening the door for a potential bid by the Congressman’s son.

Former state Rep. Hunt Downer (R) is reconsidering a bid that once seemed certain, according to informed sources.

A Downer departure would pave the way for Billy Tauzin III, the manager of regulatory and external affairs for BellSouth, who confirmed Wednesday he is interested in the contest.

“We are looking at it,” he said. “We are going to look at some numbers.”

The elder Tauzin is expected to sign a deal to head the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association within days, but the timing of an election to replace him is uncertain.

He is coming under increasing pressure from Republican leadership to stay in Congress until November, thus avoiding a special election, according to several informed GOP sources.

“He has not made a final decision yet and won’t make one until he has a chance to consult his physician and his family,” said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson. Tauzin has struggled with health problems.

If Congressman Tauzin does bow out in the near future, a special election falling in either April or July remains a possibility with Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco given full leeway regarding the timing of such a race.

For Democrats, former sugar industry lobbyist Charlie Melancon is the only announced candidate. He said Wednesday he has raised $150,000 and expects to have between $300,000 and $400,000 in the bank by the end of March.

Melancon may not have the field to himself for long, however, as Charmaine Caccioppi, a longtime aide to former Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), is on the verge of entering the fray.

Caccioppi said she is “seriously looking” at the race and has spoken with Johnston, who would support her if she did run.

Tauzin’s 3rd district will be a major target for Democrats regardless of when it comes open.

President Bush would have won 52 percent there in the 2000 election, his second-worst showing in the state’s seven Congressional districts, and blacks — a traditionally Democratic constituency — comprise 25 percent of the district’s population.

“We think this is a great opportunity and are very confident that a Democrat will be in the runoff or win the district outright based on the very strong Democratic performance of this district,” said Greg Speed, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Under Louisiana election law, all candidates for the seat will run in a Nov. 2 open primary. If no one receives 50 percent of the vote, the two top votegetters, regardless of party, will advance to a Dec. 4 runoff.

But a battle between Melancon and Caccioppi could divide the support of the state’s Democratic establishment and weaken the Democrats’ chances of taking the seat.

Melancon is the former president of the American Sugar Cane Association and has strong ties to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), whom he aided in her 2002 runoff victory.

Caccioppi, who was Johnston’s New Orleans director before leaving for a position at the Greater New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, will benefit from Johnston’s influence in the D.C. community, where he, along with his son Hunter, are now lobbyists. Former Rep. Lindy Boggs, the wife of the late Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs (D), is also expected to be behind her candidacy.

Caccioppi argued that a multiple candidate field would ultimately prove beneficial to the party.

“The American system works best when citizens of the district have an opportunity to vote on an array of candidates that have an array of skills and talents,” she said.

Melancon said Wednesday that he is focusing on raising a large amount of money to try to dissuade other Democrats from entering the race.

“I am trying to raise as much money as I can in hopes that it would deter people who think they are going to run or are taking a look at the race,” he said.

Aside from Caccioppi, state Reps. Jack Smith and Gary Smith and state Sens. Warren Triche and Reggie Dupre are also mentioned as possible Democratic candidates.

The situation is even more fluid on the Republican side, as Downer appears to be on the fence about a candidacy.

Downer has long been seen as the heir to Tauzin’s Congressional legacy, as the men have been close friends for decades.

The two roomed together while they were in the state Legislature, and Tauzin chaired Downer’s 2003 gubernatorial effort, a race in which he placed a distant fifth.

Toward the end of his gubernatorial run, Downer concentrated almost exclusively on this southeastern Louisiana district, which fueled speculation that he was laying the groundwork for a future Congressional race.

Downer was also in D.C. for last weekend’s Washington Mardi Gras festivities and met with the National Republican Congressional Committee during that visit.

On Wednesday, Tauzin III reiterated his support for Downer if he decides to make the race.

If not, he said, “we will do a lot of soul searching.”