Former U.S. congressman Jeff Landry ousted two-term Attorney General Buddy Caldwell in a nasty Republican battle that exposed the wide political chasm within party ranks
Meanwhile, Republican Billy Nungesser — the former Plaquemines Parish leader and vocal BP critic — outdistanced Democratic Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden for lieutenant governor — dashing Holden’s hope of becoming the first black statewide elected official since Reconstruction. It was a sweet victory for Nungesser who had run unsuccessfully four years ago.
Nungesser’s election guarantees the six statewide elected officials below the governor will be Republicans come January.
“We just went out there and put our trust in God and the good citizens of Louisiana who believed we needed to bring some humility and integrity back to the Attorney General’s Office,” Landry said. “We are going to make sure that office is transparent....We are going to ask for the key.”
Landry said his victory was a bipartisan effort and thanked African-American Garyville lawyer Geri Broussard Baloney — the top Democratic vote-getter in the primary who endorsed him.
He said he is well-equipped for the job noting his legislative, law enforcement, legal and business experiences.
In conceding defeat, Caldwell said Landry ran “a brilliant campaign” and he could not match the money Landry had available. He said he would not mind an apology from Landry for all the untrue things said about him. “I have the highest level of integrity,” he said.
“I am handing over to Mr. Landry one of the best organizations and most successful Attorney General’s Office in the United States, so Jeff don’t screw it up,” Caldwell said. He said Landry is going to need a lot of help because of his lack of legal experience.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Nungesser attributed his success to the hard work of people all over the state and their passion for Louisiana.
“We worked hard. We worked seven days a week from sun-up to sundown with great volunteers and staff who were remarkable,” Nungesser said.
Nungesser said he set up a meeting Monday with Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne to go over office operations and “start putting together a plan” to make the state a mecca for more tourists. The No. 2 job in state government was an open seat because Dardenne ran unsuccessfully for governor instead of seeking re-election.
“I have nothing to hang my head about,” Holden said. “To me this has been one of the greatest experiences. People on both sides, Republican and Democrat, and all races got behind this campaign.”
The two undercard elections struggled to attract voter attention, with undecideds still hitting 20 percent or better as election day approached.
The attorney general’s race was a prolonged, expensive and mean-spirited affair from beginning to end. Spending had exceeded $3.6 million between the two candidates as of the latest reporting, with Caldwell leading on that front.
Landry was backed by energy and chemical interests, while Caldwell was endorsed by sheriffs and prosecutors.
Caldwell, of Tallulah, was the district attorney for a northeast Louisiana district for nearly three decades before winning the 2007 attorney general’s race as a Democratic candidate.
Caldwell switched to the Republican Party in 2011 months before his re-election bid — heading off GOP opposition. But this time around, the state party went after Caldwell with a vengeance and backed the ultra-conservative Landry. That put Caldwell in a position of reaching out to Democratic groups, such as the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, to try to stay in the job as the state’s top lawyer..
Most of the campaign played out in paid television and radio advertising. Caldwell generally declined to participate in forums where the two could go head-to-head and avoided the media.
In a flood of ads, Caldwell described Landry as a failed politician with no relevant legal experience and a puppet of business and industry. Landry, a former sheriff’s deputy, was a congressman from 2011 to 2013 and worked for a Lafayette law firm.
Landry, of New Iberia, lost re-election to congress when reapportionment put him in the same district as veteran U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a Lafayette Republican. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate.
Landry accused Caldwell of directing state contracts to cronies, calling the practice “the Buddy system.” He also accused Caldwell of being a Republican in name only, or RINO.
In contrast, the Republican-versus-Democratic lieutenant governor’s race runoff was a low-key affair. Nungesser and Holden stuck with a pledge to stay positive.
Holden ran a low-budget campaign that relied on strong Democratic voter support and his past ability to cross party and racial lines to win elections. He did little television or radio campaign spending.
The term-limited mayor had an uphill climb given Louisiana voters’ propensity in recent statewide votes to elect Republicans. Holden has served as mayor-president for East Baton Rouge Parish for 11 years. He was the first black mayor-president to lead the parish.
The bulk of Nungesser’s campaign expenditures came leading up to the Oct. 24 primary election.
Nungesser and Republican Jefferson Parish President John Young waged a fierce battle for the runoff spot, knowing lone Democratic contender Holden would survive the primary. Holden finished first with 33 percent of the vote in the primary. After spending more than $5 million between them, Nungesser edged out Young to move on to Saturday’s election, gaining 30 percent of the vote to Young’s 29 percent.
Young did not endorse in the runoff. State Sen. Elbert Guillory, an Opelousas Republican who finished fourth, supported Nungesser.
In a race with no real issues, the two candidates campaigned on their credentials and how it prepared them for the job as the “governor-in-waiting” and as the state’s tourism ambassador.
Nungesser, a businessman, noted his role in Hurricane Katrina and BP oil spill recovery efforts in his parish and across the Gulf coast.
In the aftermath of the oil spill, Nungesser appeared frequently on national TV, bringing attention to the impact of the disaster on the state’s coastline and its seafood industry.
Holden touted his record as chief executive of Louisiana’s capital city for a decade. Holden bragged about the transformation of Baton Rouge under his tenure as mayor — the economic turnaround, expansion of arts, entertainment and cultural activities and top rankings in a variety of surveys as one of the best small cities in which to live and work.
“I’m a salesman. I’m a promoter,” said Holden who has also been a metro councilman and legislator.