Landry Appears Headed for La. Runoff Victory

Posted October 2, 2010 at 10:20am

After finishing less than 200 votes shy of securing the 3rd district GOP nomination in the August primary, attorney Jeff Landry is poised to finish the job in Louisiana’s primary runoff Saturday.

Former state Speaker Hunt Downer continues to think a path to victory can be found in an influx of new voters, a redoubled get-out-the-vote effort and a late nod of support from the third-place finisher in their primary. But considering how close Landry came in August and the momentum he’s gained since his surprisingly strong showing in that contest, most party insiders and political pundits are counting Downer out.

A Landry victory will be especially impressive because Downer held many natural political advantages in the Bayou-based 3rd district, not the least of which was wide name identification.

Downer is a former seven-term member of the Louisiana state House who served as Speaker from 1996 to 2000. National party officials touted him during the recruiting phase of the race and many party insiders expected him to have little trouble wrapping up the nomination, despite his late entry into the contest in May.

As expected, Downer proved to be a strong fundraiser, bringing in more money in his first month and a half on the campaign trail than Landry did during the entire second quarter of the year.

But Downer has developed a reputation as a poor campaigner, even before the race for the 3rd district Republican nomination.

“His campaign was never a great offensive force,” said Bernie Pinsonat, an independent pollster in Louisiana. “That’s been Hunt’s trademark; he jumps up and runs for something and does poorly.”

Downer ran for governor in 2003, finishing a distant sixth in a nonpartisan primary despite being one of the top fundraisers in that contest. At the time, Downer was just three years removed from being Speaker and was one of the most well-known legislators in the state.

“Everybody likes Hunt. He’s run twice he’s had huge advantages. He’s just not able to put it together for whatever reason,” Pinsonat said.

At least part of the reason this year was that Downer was considered something of an insider in a political environment that has seen voters embrace outsiders.

Landry is a former state Senate aide who ran for the state Legislature in 2007, but he’s embraced the conservative tea party image. He’s also worked to paint Downer, who switched parties in 2001, as a Republican in name only. Since the primary Landry has gained endorsements from the state Republican Party and used the momentum of his near-victory in the primary to outraise Downer. With two weeks to go before Saturday’s election, Landry had $211,000 in the bank to Downer’s $63,000.

Leading up to the primary, Downer attacked Landry for shady business dealings and accused him of lying about the former state Speaker’s anti-abortion record. But he’s become more aggressive in the runoff. Downer has attacked Landry on everything from buying tea party endorsements to skimming money off his campaign contributions. Two weeks ago, he launched the website to try to change the narrative of the race before Saturday.

“When he started hitting me I didn’t hit back, and when I started to hit back maybe it was a little too light too late. But this time we’ve corrected it,” Downer said Friday.

Ravi Sangisetty is the Democratic nominee, but he faces an uphill climb trying to hold a conservative district that gave Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 61 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential race in a Republican-friendly cycle. The 3rd district is being vacated by Rep. Charlie Melancon (D), who is running for Senate.