Fresh off a historic two-seat gain in the November election, the National Republican Congressional Committee launched independent expenditure ads in Louisiana over the weekend in an attempt to add two more new Members.
The ads, which began running Saturday, are the leading edge of a concerted Republican push to win Dec. 4 runoffs in Louisiana’s 3rd and 7th districts where GOP candidates led the balloting last Tuesday but were unable to secure a simple majority of the vote.
Under Louisiana law, if no candidate receives 50 percent on Election Day, the two top votegetters advance to a runoff.
“We have an opportunity to win both,” said NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti.
Sources familiar with the ads say they feature attacks on the two Democratic nominees, but Forti would not comment on the spots Friday.
In addition, the entire House Republican leadership will host a Washington, D.C., fundraiser on Nov. 16 to benefit cardiac surgeon Charles Boustany and former BellSouth lobbyist Billy Tauzin III, the party’s nominees in the 7th and 3rd districts, respectively.
National Democrats, too, are rallying around their Louisiana candidates — state Sen. Willie Mount in the 7th and former state Rep. Charlie Melancon in the 3rd — and believe history is on their side.
“The history of runoffs are very favorable to us,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Greg Speed.
In the 2003 governor’s race, former Health and Human Services official Bobby Jindal (R) held a 15-point lead over then Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) in the primary.
Blanco turned the tables in the runoff, winning with 52 percent.
Jindal bounced back last week, winning the open 1st district seat with a comfortable 78 percent.
In 2002, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) was unable to avoid a runoff with then-state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell (R) but despite a wave of GOP momentum nationwide, the Democrat won in December with 52 percent.
That same year, Democratic state Rep. Rodney Alexander won the strongly Republican north Louisiana 5th district by less than 1,000 votes in a December runoff against former Congressional staffer Lee Fletcher (R).
Alexander shocked the political world when he switched to the Republican Party earlier this year, but it apparently did little to change voters’ opinion of him as he won with a solid 59 percent last Tuesday.
Both the 3rd and 7th districts are considered highly competitive — President Bush carried the former with 52 percent and the latter with 54 percent in 2000 — and party strategists sifting through Tuesday’s primary results found positives for their preferred candidates.
In the 3rd district, Tauzin III, the youngest son of retiring Rep. Billy Tauzin (R), led the six-way primary field with 32 percent, winning seven of the 13 parishes in the district.
Tauzin III dominated in the southern and eastern areas of the seat, running especially strong in Lafourche Parish, where he won 12,659 votes.
“We were the top votegetter and that was our goal all along,” said Tauzin spokesman Matt Gresham.
Melancon carried the three parishes in the central portion of the district (Ascension, Assumption and St. James) and ran slightly stronger than Tauzin in the western portion of the district, which was dominated by state Sen. Craig Romero (R).
Romero, who missed a spot in the runoff by just 2,000 votes, won easily in both Iberia and St. Martin’s parishes, where he represents in the state legislature.
The battleground between Tauzin and Melancon will be that western part of the district, where neither has a natural base.
Privately, GOPers are concerned Tauzin’s attacks on Romero during the primary — he called his fellow Republican a “Massachusetts liberal” for his alleged support of same-sex unions — could backfire in the runoff.
Gresham said that Tauzin III had attempted to reach Romero by phone on Election Night and again Wednesday morning but that the state Senator had not returned his calls.
Despite that lack of communication, Gresham said Tauzin III is not concerned about Romero making a negative impact on the race, pointing to comments the state Senator made in local papers that he would not endorse either Tauzin or Melancon.
“We have talked to several of his key supporters in the last few days and they have been supportive,” said Gresham. “We are going to work hard to earn their support.”
Casey O’Shea, campaign manager for Melancon, said even if Romero stays out of the race, his failure to endorse Tauzin III looms large.
“We have had Romero supporters calling our office constantly,” O’Shea said.
“They are concerned, as are the 68 percent of the people that didn’t vote for him, that Tauzin doesn’t have the experience and maturity to represent them,” O’Shea added.
Tauzin’s youth is likely to be a major focus of the runoff, as it was in the primary. At 30, he has never before run for or held an elected office.
Gresham said he expected that Melancon would make age an issue but “we don’t see it as a big hurdle this time around.”
“People know who Billy Tauzin III is,” he added. “People spoke very loudly in support of him on Election Day.”
Across the state, in the southwestern 7th district, Republicans are confident about their chances of picking up the seat being vacated by Rep. Chris John (D).
Boustany, a first-time candidate, has run an impressive campaign to date, taking 39 percent of the vote in the primary.
“I expected to run first and we did,” said Boustany. “I am very pleased with that.”
Mount narrowly beat out fellow state Sen. Don Cravins (D) to advance to the runoff. Both received 25 percent but Mount, capitalizing on her strength in the western portion of the district, beat him out by 1,728 votes.
Democratic leaders were privately pleased by that development as they believed that Cravins, who is black, would have not been able to beat Boustany in a district that is more than 70 percent white.
Boustany carried the three eastern parishes of the district — Acadia, Lafayette and Vermillion — while Mount won Calcasieu Parish, which includes her political base in Lake Charles, as well as Jefferson Davis and Cameron parishes in the western end.
Boustany said that while “historically the candidate from the east has won because of the population density,” he will “go after the conservative base in the west.”
The past three men to hold the seat — all Democrats — hailed from Crowley, a tiny town located between the population centers of Lafayette and Lake Charles.
The major X-factor in both the 3rd and 7th district races is the absence of a Senate runoff on the Dec. 4 ballot.
Rep. David Vitter (R) defied the political odds by winning 51 percent last Tuesday, becoming the first GOPer to win a Senate seat in Louisiana since Reconstruction.
At first glance, the lack of a Senate runoff would seem to hurt Democratic chances — especially in John’s 7th district — as it makes a low turnout election more likely, a scenario that traditionally favors Republicans. Democrats had expected John to advance to a Senate runoff with Vitter.
“This will be a turnout race with nothing else on the ballot and we expect to do well there,” Boustany said.