Seeking to handpick the Democratic nominee in Louisiana’s 7th district, the National Republican Congressional Committee has launched an independent expenditure ad campaign attacking state Sen. Willie Mount (D).
The NRCC commercials, which went up in the southwestern Louisiana 7th district over the weekend, call Mount a “champion … when it comes to voting for higher taxes.”
The ad details Mount’s votes in the Legislature for raising sales and food taxes and accuses her of backing “a bill that would have imposed over $100 million in new taxes on Louisiana businesses.”
The NRCC ads are running in the Lake Charles media market, which is Mount’s base, and are costing the committee roughly $155,000 according to independent expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Mount is up with a response ad noting that in the previous session of the Legislature she supported a tax-cut plan; it is her first television spot of the campaign.
The decision to attack Mount is widely seen in Democratic circles as a not-so-subtle attempt by the NRCC to push state Sen. Don Cravins (D) into the December runoff with cardiologist Charles Boustany, the leading Republican contender.
“There is an absolute reason to believe they are trying to make sure Cravins is in the runoff,” said one Democratic operative with extensive knowledge of Louisiana politics.
Left unsaid is the belief that Cravins, who is black, has a more limited appeal in a one-on-one race with Boustany than would Mount. The district is roughly 25 percent black, according to 2001 Census data.
Former Lafayette School Board member David Thibodeaux (R), who is also running in the 7th district, decried the NRCC’s ad campaign.
“This is the same kind of campaigns that have failed every time they have tried to do it here,” said Thibodeaux, who ran for the seat in 1996 and has been spurned by the party in favor of Boustany in this race.
The back and forth between the NRCC and Mount takes on added significance given the unique nature of Louisiana election law.
Under that system, Mount, Cravins Boustany and Thibodeaux as well as Malcolm Carriere (D) will run in an all-party primary on Nov. 2.
If no one receives 50 percent of the vote, as is likely, the two top votegetters, regardless of party, advance to a Dec. 4 runoff.
Cravins said he has been dealing with questions like the current one about his electoral viability his whole life and approaches them like he would a schoolyard bully.
“The line is drawn, now come cross it,” Cravins said.
Recent Louisiana political history provides some fodder for proponents of this race-based strategy, however.
In the 1995 open-seat gubernatorial race, then state Sen. Mike Foster (R) won the October primary with 26 percent.
The fight for the other runoff slot came down to black Rep. Cleo Fields (D) and then-state Treasurer Mary Landrieu (D), who is white. Fields won 19 percent to 18.4 percent, a margin of less than 9,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast.
Many Democrats felt that Landrieu would have made the stronger runoff challenger to Foster as she would have been able to better appeal to rural white voters in the southern and northern sections of the state.
The runoff race between Foster and Fields was never close, and the Republican won with 64 percent to 36 percent for Fields.
Foster carried 84 percent of the white vote while Fields won 96 percent of the black vote.
NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti declined to comment on the strategy behind the committee’s spending in the 7th district race.
“This is one of the top pickup opportunities for us in the country and we felt it was important to tell voters about Ms. Mount’s record,” he said.
The 7th district, which takes in much of southwestern Louisiana’s Cajun country, is being vacated by Rep. Chris John (D), who is running for the state’s open Senate seat.
This seat is one of the last “yellow dog” districts in the South where even though voters side with Republican candidates on the national level they still vote for Democrats on the local and Congressional level.
Republicans have never held this seat but believe that this cycle represents their strongest chance ever to win it.
With that in mind, the national party has rallied around Boustany with Vice President Cheney hosting a fundraiser last Saturday; the candidate will be feted by the entire House Republican leadership at a fundraising breakfast on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Thibodeaux insisted that the party’s decision to back Boustany will backfire.
“There is a resentment among many [voters] when people presume to come in and tell them how to vote,” he said.
Regardless of the ultimate impact, Boustany has used the windfall of contributions to finance a television campaign in which he has already run four ads designed to introduce himself to voters.
The ads appear to be having an impact as a recent poll done for Boustany showed Mount leading with 25 percent to 24 percent for the cardiologist, 23 percent for Cravins and 12 percent for Thibodeaux.
“I have risen precipitously in the polls because of the type of campaign we have run,” said Boustany. “We are not just pointing out problems that we have but we are offering solutions.”
Boustany said it is “possible” he could win without a runoff but that it is more likely he will advance to a runoff with one of the two Democratic state Senators.
He added that his strategy will be unaffected regardless of his opponent; “I will continue to run the same campaign whether it’s Mount or Cravins,” Boustany said.
Cravins believes that he and Boustany will ultimately make the runoff since they are the best representatives of their respective parties.
“Why would you vote for a wanna-be Republican, namely Mount, when you could vote for a real Republican?” Cravins asked. “There is only a place for one true Democrat in the race and that’s me.”