Billy Tauzin III (R), son of retiring 3rd district Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), is on the verge of joining the race to replace his father, a development likely to significantly alter the dynamics of the contest.
“I am moving toward a run,” the younger Tauzin confirmed in an interview Tuesday. “The poll numbers are showing good [news].”
After conducting a survey on the race last week, Tauzin III on Monday opened an exploratory committee to raise money for a bid.
“We are getting folks in the exploratory committee finding out what the man or woman on the street feels is important,” Tauzin III added.
The younger Tauzin can expect significant aid from his father in the race, a spokesman for the Congressman said Tuesday.
“If in fact his son becomes a declared candidate, then I suspect Billy will move heaven and earth to try and get him elected,” said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson. “He’ll do what any father would do to help his son.”
Former American Sugar Cane League President Charlie Melancon (D), the only announced candidate in the race, said Tauzin III’s name will only get him so far in the contest.
“The electorate is a whole lot more intelligent than some people give them credit for,” Melancon said. “They are not looking at just a name when they analyze the candidates.”
Tauzin III’s interest in the race has risen as former state Rep. Hunt Downer’s (R) has waned.
Downer, who had already secured Congressman Tauzin’s endorsement, said Monday that he would not run, citing his increased duties as a member of the Louisiana National Guard.
Tauzin III said he has attempted to contact Downer since he dropped from the race, but the two have not yet spoken.
Downer’s departure has also sparked the interest of state Sen. Craig Romero and St. John Parish President Nickie Monica, both of whom would run as Republicans for the seat.
Romero said he had conducted a poll that was completed Tuesday night. He is meeting with his advisers tonight to pour over the poll results and will then make a decision shortly afterward.
The poll questionnaire was aimed “more at what I need to hear than I want to hear,” said Romero.
It remains unclear whether the elder Tauzin will leave Congress before November, which could trigger a special election to fill his seat. Tauzin had previously pledged not to step down before Tuesday’s presidential primary.
If Tauzin does resign, Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) has full authority in the timing of a special election. Louisiana elections for local offices are already set for April 17, July 17 and Sept. 18, and the special could coincide with one of those dates.
If Tauzin remains in the seat through November, all of the candidates to replace him will run in a Nov. 2 open primary. If none receives 50 percent, the two top votegetters regardless of party advance to a Dec. 4 runoff.
Tauzin III’s candidacy is likely to serve as an early test of his father’s political legacy in the competitive Louisiana district.
Congressman Tauzin has held the politically marginal southeastern Louisiana district since May 1980, when he was elected as a Democrat in a special election to replace Rep. David Treen (R), who was elected governor the previous year. In 1995 Tauzin switched to the Republican Party, but it had no effect on his easy re-elections.
During the past year, Tauzin has repeatedly flirted with high-paying jobs on K Street. He turned down an offer to head the Motion Picture Association of America and recently broke off talks with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Democrats have attacked Tauzin’s discussions with PhRMA because as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he was one of the prime movers behind passage of the Republican-authored prescription drug plan in the first session of the 108th Congress.
“The whole PhRMA situation has dirtied the Tauzin name a little in the district,” said a Democratic House leadership aide. “People really like Billy Tauzin but they are disgusted with how he did this whole PhRMA thing.”
State sources indicate that voters in the 3rd district are very aware of Tauzin’s fan dance with the lobbying world, but those same sources are loath to predict the effect it may have on his son’s candidacy.
One school of thought is that voters will reject the anointing of another Tauzin after the way the Congressman has handled his exit.
Romero said that he has always liked and supported the elder Tauzin, but “what we are talking about here is not the local police charity, this is the U.S. Congress.”
The other view is that many voters will either see Tauzin III as the person best able to carry on his father’s political efforts or will not know the difference between father and son, assuming they are casting a vote for the current Member.
For his part, Tauzin III categorized his last name as a “huge positive.”
“The name will give me immediate name recognition,” he said, adding, however, that “people need to get to know me.”
Tauzin III said that in his recently completed poll, three respondents actually knew him but not his dad.
Although only 30, Tauzin III has long been seen by Bayou State observers as a potential Congressional candidate.
He is currently the manager of regulatory and external affairs for BellSouth and is based in Louisiana.
Melancon appeared unaffected by the prospect of facing a Tauzin on the ballot.
“I am running to get elected, I am not running against anyone,” he said. “Once I know who is in the race I will decide tactics.”
Melancon already has raised more than $150,000 for the contest, and during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., he held a fundraiser with Louisiana Sens. John Breaux and Mary Landrieu as well as Rep. Rodney Alexander (D-La.).
“At this point in time we are raising money and talking to people about support,” Melancon said.
A number of other Democrats have been mentioned as candidates, but none has formally entered the race.
Charmaine Caccioppi, a former New Orleans director for then-Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), state Reps. Gary Smith and Jack Smith and state Sens. Reggie Dupre and Warren Triche are seen as possible contenders for the Democratic nomination.