In response to reports that his unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge physician who is the leading Republican contender for election to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana this fall, confirmed Thursday that his daughter is expecting a child this year.

In a brief statement released by the Cassidy campaign, Cassidy said that he and his wife, Laura Layden, learned of the pregnancy earlier this year.

“Our children have been the greatest blessing of our lives and we welcome our grandchild as a joyous addition to our family,” Cassidy said. “Our daughter now faces a more challenging future than her peers. She has our unconditional love and support.”

Cassidy, 56, and his wife, who also is a physician, are the parents of a son and two daughters.

Cassidy, elected to Congress in 2008, has emerged as easily the best-funded Republican challenger to the re-election of Mary Landrieu to the Senate. As a Democrat in a deep red state, Landrieu is a prime target of the Republican effort to pick up six seats this fall to gain a U.S. Senate majority.

Other Republicans in the race include retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, of Madisonville, who is mounting a lively challenge from the right of Cassidy, and state Sen. Paul Hollis, of Covington.