As they head into the 2018 midterm elections, Louisiana's congressmen all appear to be gearing up for re-election, with most of their campaign coffers flush with cash after robust fundraising efforts in 2017.
Two members of the six members of the House delegation — U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves — had more than a million dollars in their campaign accounts at the end of the year, while others in the delegation were approaching the half-a-million-dollar mark, according to year-end campaign disclosures filed this week.
All of Louisiana's U.S. House members are up for re-election this year. The qualifying period for Louisiana candidates is July 18-20 for the Nov. 6 election. Runoff elections will be held Dec. 8 in races in which no candidate takes more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.
Three congressmen's campaigns didn't respond to The Advocate's requests for comment on Thursday: Republican U.S. Reps. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, and Mike Johnson, of Bossier, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans. Johnson reported having $451,741 in his campaign coffers at the end of his first year in office. Abraham, who is in his second term, reported $282,563 cash on hand. Richmond, the only Democrat representing Louisiana in Congress and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, reported having $557,264.
At the bottom of Louisiana's fundraising rankings is first-term U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, with just $50,651 in the bank at the end of 2017.
Higgins, a former law enforcement officer, has already drawn at least one Republican challenger in Lafayette attorney Joshua Guillory, who reported ending the year with $46,626 in cash, and a Democratic foe in Dr. Phillip Conner who reported $3,704. No other incumbents have opponents at this time who filed financial disclosures for 2017 — an early indicator that Higgins' re-election bid might become the race to watch this fall.
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Higgins campaign manager Chris Comeaux stressed that Higgins' isn't taking re-election for granted, nor is he slacking, he said.
"The pressure to sit and raise money all the time doesn't really appeal to his personality," Comeaux said. "He felt more driven to make relationships on his committees."
"He just doesn't do the dinner with lobbyists, stuff that other congressmen are better at," he added.
Higgins, thought to be an underdog when he sought the open seat to represent Louisiana's Acadiana-centered Congressional district in 2016, ended his campaign $121,629.16 in debt.
"Beating (former Public Service Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate) Scott Angelle, we couldn't do that with fairy dust," Comeaux said.
Over the past year, the campaign has paid off all but $7,450 of its debt, with that remaining portion scheduled to be repaid during the first quarter of this year.
Comeaux said it was important to Higgins to repay the debt as quickly as possible because he owed money to small vendors who depended on it.
"Clay wasn't comfortable being in debt to those folks," he said.
Higgins has recently hired Nungesser Consulting, helmed by veteran Louisiana campaign fundraiser Sally Nungesser, to help build up his war chest.
"We're already starting to see great signs of new life," Comeaux said. "It's been an immediate uptick for us."
Higgins has several fundraising dinners and special events planned in the run up to the election.
"We expect to have a robust war chest heading into this campaign season," Comeaux said.
Scalise, Louisiana's longest-serving and highest-ranking current member of Congress, raised $1.9 million in his personal fund and a leadership fund in 2017, despite a near fatal injury for which he took months to recover.
"It was somewhat of a strain but obviously we wanted him to concentrate on his recovery, which is more important than any campaign or fundraising," said Scalise political director Tyler Daniel.
Scalise was critically wounded when a gunman opened fire on Republicans as they practiced for a charity baseball game practice in June. He returned to the U.S. Capitol nearly four months later after multiple surgeries and rehabilitation treatments.
Despite his required time off, Scalise reported having more than $1 million in the bank at the close of 2017, after spending more than $1.1 million, including $107,500 on catering, event rentals and other food costs, as a member of the chamber's leadership.
Graves, who is in his second term representing his Baton Rouge area district, ended the year with the most cash on hand among Louisiana's delegation with $1.4 million, records show.
"The metric I care most about is the feedback I get from the multiple hundreds of people I interact with across south Louisiana on a weekly basis doing this job," he said of his campaign haul. "Our support is strong because we are working hard to represent home. Fundraising is the worst part of this job. I hate it and generally avoid it."