U.S. Rep. John Fleming and retired Air Force colonel Rob Maness, two candidates for U.S. Senate.

Advocate file photos

Louisiana Senate candidate Rob Maness said Tuesday he was asked to drop out of the race and throw his support to GOP opponent John Fleming in return for significant funding in a future race.

Maness told The Advocate that he met Paul Dickson over coffee at Abita Roasting Company in Madisonville on Monday afternoon. There, Dickson, who identified himself as the person “running the John Fleming PAC” and a decision maker with the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority, offered support to Maness’ future political endeavors, he said.

“He told me that he would provide opportunities for my future, if I left the race for Senate and endorsed John Fleming. But, if I didn't do it before (Tuesday night’s statewide televised) debate, I'd be finished as a politician,” Maness said. “Although I'm not naive, the unethical threats and power play by the thugs behind the John Fleming campaign against me was shocking even by Louisiana standards.”

Maness' aide, John Mathis, said he was at the table and heard the offer too.

Dickson acknowledged the meeting, but rejected Maness' take on their private conversation.

“These statements are absolutely false,” Dickson told The Advocate Tuesday. “People look at the clouds and see all sorts of things."

Dickson said he is an active fundraiser for many Republican causes, but was not directly involved with the campaigns of the aspirants to replace Sen. David Vitter, who is stepping down at the end of his term.

Dickson said he wouldn't reveal exactly what was said in the private conversation.

"But, I made it very clear to him that I wasn't offering anything," Dickson said, adding he repeated that assertion before, during and "particularly at the end" of conversation.

Fleming’s campaign responded to the allegations. “We don’t know about it, nor do we have control of what Mr. Dickson does. We can't and don't coordinate with our super PAC,” Matthew Beynon, spokesman for the Fleming campaign, said in an email Tuesday. Other Fleming staffers said essentially the same thing when asked on background what was happening.

Fleming, of Minden, is the congressman for northwest Louisiana who was elected in 2009 with tea party support.

Maness, of Madisonville, is a former U.S. Air Force officer who when backed by tea parties in 2014 attracted 14 percent of the total vote in a bid to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. Bill Cassidy, a more moderate Republican, eventually won the election.

Maness and Fleming are both competing for the same pool of very conservative voters in the Nov. 8 open primary. All 24 candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are on the ballot. Most experts say that no one candidate is going to win 50 percent of the vote, so a Dec. 10 runoff between the top two vote-getters is likely.

Tea party voters make up enough of the electorate to get one of the candidates into a runoff, particularly given the number of candidates in this primary, say pollsters and political strategists. However, if that vote is split, neither Maness nor Fleming will find enough support to get a spin in the runoff.

"I will file a criminal complaint in St Tammany parish as soon as our schedule allows it," Maness said Tuesday afternoon.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.