Congressman Bill Cassidy spent Saturday shoring up support on the right wing of the Republican Party at a Northshore Tea Party rally.
Flanked by U.S. Sen. David Vitter and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Cassidy shared the stage with conservative favorite Dr. Ben Carson at the event in the woods near Abita Springs.
Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, is the leading Republican candidate challenging the re-election of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Republican Rob Maness is running to Cassidy’s right and polls show him with enough support to force a runoff.
Voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose among the eight Senate candidates. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes and an outright victory, the top two finishers will meet in a Dec. 6 runoff.
Carson verbalized the fears that have been mentioned only in hushed tones, that Maness’ supporters would stay home in December because, while Cassidy is conservative, he’s just not conservative enough for them.
“The reason he (Cassidy) is the best candidate is because he has the best chance of winning and he has conservative values,” Carson said. “This is not to say that the other tea party candidate is not a good man, because he is … but he has no chance of winning; therefore, we have to be mindful. There will come a time for Maness.”
In a prepared statement, Maness’s campaign manager, Michael D. Byrne, expressed puzzlement at Carson’s remarks: “We’re not sure what he meant by his comments concerning Rob’s prospects. The polls have consistently shown that Rob is equally strong if not stronger against Sen. Landrieu than Congressman Cassidy would be ... It’s sad that Dr. Carson who is such a tremendous voice for our Party has been led to believe these scare tactics.”
Maness’ insurgency has been based on support of some tea party groups, including the national Tea Party Express, and the evangelical Christian community. They distrust Cassidy because he has, in the past, supported some Democrats, including Landrieu, and as a congressman occasionally has taken more moderate positions.
Cassidy would have none of that, insistent after the rally that conservatives support him. “I don’t know if I had trouble with the conservative wing. There are people who harp on that, but whether it is true or not, I don’t know,” Cassidy said.
Some local tea party organizations always had favored him over Maness. “It is the groups in D.C. that have not liked me. They have not liked me because I have led the charge on flood insurance,” Cassidy said.
Conservatives pressed a law that revamped the beleaguered program that insures property against flood damage, often subsidizing rates for houses in areas that frequently flood. But the changes in the program would have dramatically raised rates for some Louisiana homeowners, which Cassidy and the rest delegation successfully fought.
Carson, who has been on robocalls all week in Louisiana, delivered a red meat Republican speech to a cheering crowd of about 350. He criticized President Barack Obama’s health care initiative and claimed religion is under attack.
Dr. Kathy Oqueli McGraw and her son Mateo drove over from Luling. McGraw held a copy of Carson’s book, and Mateo held a handmade poster supporting Cassidy and attempted to photograph the candidate.
Carson has written seven books with titles like “One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future,” which was published earlier this year.
A renowned surgeon, Carson won tea party favor by criticizing Obama’s health care initiative, the Affordable Care Act, which has been the focus of much conservative ridicule. He is frequently mentioned as a possible 2016 candidate and some in the crowd Saturday chanted “Run Ben Run.”
State Rep. Paul Hollis, the Republican representing nearby Covington, said it was important for voters to see how enthusiastically received Cassidy was by tea party members, as well as conservative luminaries such as Scalise, Vitter and Carson.
“You could feel the energy in there,” said Hollis, who briefly was in the running for this Senate seat. He added that he hoped Maness would see the writing was on the wall and prepared for the moment when he endorsed Cassidy.