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Member-Vs.-Member Race Could Get Nasty in Bayou

Redistricting in Louisiana has pitted two Republican Congressmen — one a tea party stalwart and one close to the Speaker and GOP establishment — against each other in what could be the longest and nastiest Member-to-Member race of the cycle.

Rep. Jeff Landry’s district in the southeastern portion of the Pelican State was essentially eliminated after Louisiana was apportioned one less seat in the 2010 census.

Under the new map, among the first of the cycle signed into law, Landry’s residence will fall within the 3rd district, which will include almost the entire district currently represented by four-term Rep. Charles Boustany (R).

This sets up the potential for a fiery Member-to-Member race that could, because of Louisiana’s “jungle” primary law, stretch into a runoff in December 2012.

Rumors in the state are that Landry might run for statewide office, perhaps attorney general, this November. But Bernie Pinsonat, a longtime pollster in Louisiana, said running against Boustany was Landry’s “next logical move.”

Boustany’s office says he is running for re-election, and he holds some key early advantages: The new 3rd district contains most of his current district, including the city of Lake Charles, far from Landry’s base.

Boustany raised $235,000 in the first quarter of this year and had almost $700,000 in cash on hand.

Landry’s team won’t even entertain questions about political campaigns. But his consultant Brent Littlefield emphasized that Landry “has been aggressively raising money and he’s done very well in that regard.”

Landry is an energetic speaker and an indefatigable and aggressive campaigner, Louisiana Republicans say. An attorney who had never held public office before being sworn into the House in January, he ran for the 3rd district seat when then-Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) ran for the Senate against David Vitter (R).

Landry faced a bruising, nasty three-way primary that ended in a runoff. He won the runoff against former Louisiana Speaker Hunt Downer, 65 percent to 35 percent. Landry then easily glided past his Democratic opponent in the general, 64 percent to 36 percent. He raised about $200,000 in the first quarter of this year and had $172,000 in cash on hand.

Boustany’s seat was uncontested in 2010.

“I think that anybody who thinks that either one of them has it in the bag is very misguided,” a senior Republican in Louisiana told Roll Call. This early, “if they are both in it to win it, it will be a very serious race.”

While the new Louisiana map is now law, the Justice Department still has to approve it to make sure the new districts comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

A Landry-Boustany race, if it ends up happening, won’t be over until November 2012, at the earliest. Louisiana returned to open or “jungle” primaries this year, which means all candidates of both parties will be on the ballot. The top two vote-getters will move on to a runoff in December 2012, regardless of party, unless one garners more than 50 percent of the vote. It’s unclear at this point which candidate the unusual electoral system would benefit.

There’s another dynamic that could be at play in the race, one that extends to Washington.

John Maginnis, the publisher of the nonpartisan and an analyst of Louisiana political trends, said Boustany is closely linked to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), while Landry is a member of the Tea Party Caucus and is supported by tea party activists.

Boustany, a doctor, was chosen by leadership to give the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s health care speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009.

But it is unclear whether Boustany’s connection to the establishment would actually help him in a race against Landry.

“Where Boustany touts his relationship with Boehner and being on that committee and this committee, a lot of people down here are … pretty much anti-Washington,” Pinsonat said.

As for the potential of a cordial, friendly race, it seems unlikely, especially given that Boustany supported Downer over Landry in the 2010 primary.

“There is no love lost between the two,” Pinsonat said.