It was a sunny, breezy morning when a dozen or so members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus gathered behind a podium on the State Capitol steps before a couple of reporters and a tourist to announce its endorsement of Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.
The Tallulah Republican’s fight to win a third term has attracted little attention. But it has been one of the bitterest campaigns in a year that has seen some of meanest races ever.
Caldwell and his Republican rival, former Congressman Jeff Landry, have held few public events — they’ve only appeared on the same stage once — while campaigning in Saturday’s statewide election as Louisiana’s chief legal officer.
Instead, Caldwell and Landry traded attack ads and hurled accusations.
Landry, who is backed by chemical and energy interests, faults Caldwell for favoring supporters for the lucrative state legal work, rather than handling the issues in-house or distributing the contracts to lawyers around the state.
“The way that he has run that office is indicative of a Louisiana in the past and not one in the future,” Landry said.
Caldwell, who has the backing of district attorneys and sheriffs, calls Landry a professional ideologue with little relevant legal experience, who is only seeking a safe sinecure.
“He may be a good politician, but he is not a good candidate to run the state’s law office,” Caldwell said.
That’s part of the reason there have been no forums, despite countless events held for races in most other offices, including governor.
“He goes on to attack and attacks everything and offers nothing that should tell you what they are about,” Caldwell said at the Black Caucus endorsement event.
“His absence should speak for itself,” Landry said at a Press Club of Baton Rouge event to announce the endorsement by Geri Broussard Baloney, the African-American lawyer from Garyville who was backed by the state Democratic Party in the primary.
“Louisiana needs an Attorney General that will not squander the agency’s resources to make brownie points with his political party,” Baloney said.
“You need to be a practicing lawyer,” said Monroe Democratic Rep. Katrina Jackson in explaining why the Black Caucus, which she chairs, backs Caldwell.
Caldwell challenged the Affordable Care Act, which the Black Caucus supports and has tried for years to have state government embrace. Jackson said, “He did his job. Sometimes he agrees with us, sometimes he does not.”
Caldwell was first elected in 2007 as a Democrat, was reelected without opposition in 2011 as a Republican.
Landry, a former sheriff’s deputy, was a congressman from 2011 to 2013 and worked for a Lafayette law firm.
In October’s primary, Caldwell’s 376,407 votes — out 1.06 million cast — were 28,802 more than Landry’s, who finished second.
But many voters don’t scroll down the ballot for AG and other statewide races. Candidates for Attorney General received 49,731 votes fewer than those running for governor — about a 3 percent drop-off.
Recent polls have shown Caldwell is trailing Landry among voters by single digits.
Landry said he sees the Attorney General’s role “as the protector for the citizens of Louisiana, of the taxpayer, regardless of whether it is Baton Rouge or Washington.” He promises that, if elected, he will restructure the office to ensure that the work is done more efficiently and at less cost to the taxpayer.
One of the first tasks would be to vet the lawsuits filed by Caldwell, Landry said.
“We will be looking at all the lawsuits the attorney general is currently engaged in and we will be looking and grading based on the merits,” Landry said. “If we believe those lawsuits raise strong constitutional arguments we will continue to pursue them, if we believe that they don’t, then we won’t.”
In the last week or so, Caldwell released a commercial that portrays Landry as a puppet. Caldwell said that refers to his opponent’s support from business and industry, many of whom the Attorney General sued on behalf of the state.
For instance, Caldwell went after pharmaceutical companies by hiring outside firms to handle lawsuits claiming companies had overcharged the state’s Medicaid programs for medication. The case won about $300 million in damages for the state.
“The people that are supporting him and pouring money into this state are people I have held accountable,” Caldwell said. “Those people got Mr. Landry into this race.”
Caldwell was in Hammond on Thursday night attending the University of Southeast Louisiana versus Nicholls State University football game with Scott Perilloux, the district attorney for Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes. He’ll be headed to north Louisiana on Friday so he can vote in Tallulah on Saturday.
Landry will be in Acadiana on Saturday pumping up his election base.
Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/