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Tauzin, Son Turn Up Heat

Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin (R) and his son Billy Tauzin III (R) are engaged in an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign in both Washington and Louisiana aimed at lining up support behind Tauzin III’s fledgling bid for his father’s 3rd district seat.

Tauzin III is in Washington, D.C., this week visiting his ailing father, who is recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his intestine, and discussing with House Republican officials the increasing likelihood that he will make the race for his father’s seat.

Although his days this week are officially dedicated to meetings on coastal restoration, he said that “we have meetings scheduled at night with a couple of different [political] folks.”

He is shopping a recent poll conducted by The Tarrance Group for the National Republican Congressional Committee; his father has made calls to several of the other candidates now in the race citing the poll as the primary reason why they should step back for Tauzin III.

The father and son also penned a letter last week to past Tauzin supporters asking that they consider his son as a potential successor.

That approach has rankled several of the other candidates in the race.

“This is not England, where you anoint your offspring to take your place,” said state Sen. Craig Romero, the only announced Republican in the field. “I am not comfortable with that, and I don’t think most Americans are.”

State Sen. Reggie Dupre (D), another announced candidate, agreed that “you can’t hand off your elected position to your son.”

Undaunted by the criticism, Tauzin III has been shopping a poll conducted last month by the Tarrance Group for the National Republican Congressional Committee that showed him as a viable candidate.

The survey also put Tauzin III 20 points ahead of former state Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) in a runoff showdown, according to knowledgeable sources.

“The poll numbers still look positive,” said Tauzin III in an interview Tuesday.

The letter signed by both men went to past backers of Tauzin’s Congressional bids, but was not intended as a financial solicitation, said the younger Tauzin.

“We are asking people to give me a chance and come talk to me about it,” explained Tauzin III.

Aside from an appeal to his past donors, the elder Tauzin could also provide a major financial boost to his son.

Tauzin had $1.1 million in his campaign account at the end of 2003; he can give his son only $6,000. He could, however, transfer the remainder to either the state Republican Party or the NRCC; it could eventually be spent on electing Tauzin III to Congress.

Tauzin III said he has already received several unsolicited checks for the campaign and expects to begin holding official fundraisers when he returns to Louisiana this weekend.

The activity on behalf of Tauzin III comes amid decisions by both Romero and Dupre to defy the Tauzin machine and enter the race. Former state Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) is already in the contest.

It also comes as Tauzin recuperates at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and speculation continues to swirl about his political future.

Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said Tuesday that the Congressman “has no plans to retire any time soon,” answering — for now — the question of whether he will leave before his term expires in January.

Speculation has run rampant for months that Tauzin will resign his seat to take a job in the lobbying world, setting off a special election to replace him. That possibility is growing more and more dim, according to informed Republican sources.

National Republicans have pushed Tauzin to remain in Congress until the end of the 108th Congress because they believe that the seat is much more vulnerable in a special election than in an open-seat race in November.

The southeastern Louisiana district is extremely competitive between the parties. While George W. Bush won it with 52 percent in 2000, Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) won 56 percent there in the 2003 open-seat gubernatorial race.

Regardless of when the race is run, the defining issue for all of the candidates is likely to be whether Tauzin III is seen by voters as an able replacement for his father.

Already both Romero and Dupre are calling into question the so-called “coronation” attempt.

Both men said that Tauzin had called them in recent days urging them not to make the race and pointing to the NRCC poll as evidence that his son was the strongest Republican candidate.

“This is not about you,” Romero said he told Tauzin during their conversation. “This is about the 3rd Congressional district, and I am not comfortable with your son going to represent me.”

At the center of this maelstrom is Tauzin III, who at 30 currently serves as manager of regulatory and external affairs for BellSouth in Thibodeaux, La.

He rejected the idea that his father’s support is in any way a coronation.

“Voters in the 3rd district are still going to have to vote, and there is going to be an election,” he said. “I can’t inherit this from him.”

He dismissed the criticism from his opponents as a “line they are going with,” adding: “I am my own person, have my own genes, and my own bank account.”

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