The shorthand version of the developing battle between two incumbent members of Congress in southwest Louisiana is “Tea Party vs. Establishment.” That description is probably going to turn out to be wrong.
Instead, the race between Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, of New Iberia, might well turn not on national themes or even on specific votes in the U.S. House, both are very conservative Republicans.
Rather, the race might well depend on the old saying that “all politics is local.”
On Nov. 6, the two face off in the open primary in the newly drawn District 3, which stretches from the Sabine across to Lafayette and through the Teche country.
The new district is mostly composed of the district that Boustany, 56, has represented since 2005. The freshman Landry’s district — he rode the tea party wave into a seat in 2010 — was carved up in remapping because Louisiana lost a seat in the House as a result of the census.
Boustany is the senior in the House and sits on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, the only Louisiana member on the tax-writing panel that is vital to Louisiana’s industrial and energy interests. He is close to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
In a normal year, the argument that Boustany’s seniority on Ways and Means should not be wasted would be plenty for re-election. He was in fact unopposed in 2010. But Landry, 41, is viewed as the more effective glad-handing politician and he’s been backed by some national ultra-conservative groups, although not necessarily all the “tea party” citizens groups in the state or the district.
Landry has the kind of personality that lights up a table at crawfish boils. Boustany is no slouch as a politician, as he’s beaten significant Democratic figures to win and maintain his seat.
But he’s the sort who might find somebody interesting to talk to in a crowded room, and continue to talk to them — to the despair of aides who want him to circulate.
Still, the view that this starts as what national reporters call a marquee race between two members is a trifle overwrought.
The primary is on the presidential election day, and given a choice between a mainstream conservative and a self-styled tea party firebrand, those Democrats voting in the House race might seem to favor Boustany.
No major Democratic candidate is on the horizon.
More compelling, though, is the base that Boustany holds outside his native Lafayette.
Landry has been under fire in the Lake Charles area because, in an effort to preserve his seat in last year’s reapportionment session of the Legislature, he was seen as benefitting from an alternative plan that would have placed Lake Charles in a north-south district dominated by Shreveport. This was anathema in Lake Charles.
The politics of members of Congress in the old 7th District — Lake Charles, Crowley, Lafayette — often hinged on the Lake Charles area, even though the congressman always hailed from the other end of the district.
The member who built a base in Lake Charles with constituent service and frequent appearances — from John Breaux to Chris John to Boustany — insulated himself against successful challengers from the east side.
That is why “all politics is local” might well decide what is now oversold as a race in the new 3rd District.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His e-mail addressis firstname.lastname@example.org.