When the Louisiana Legislature redrew the state’s congressional districts earlier this year to make seven into six, Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany was in a good position.
Boustany’s district and political base remained pretty much untouched. He had $1 million in campaign money in the bank, and sat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, the tax writers who have been known to easily raise money.
The fact that Boustany is a chief ally to House Speaker John Boehner can’t hurt. Boehner can muster troops and money from colleagues for Boustany if necessary.
But Boustany’s situation changed last week when Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, of New Iberia, held town hall meetings in Lafayette and Lake Charles in Boustany’s district with Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana.
As part of the redistricting, Landry was thrown into Boustany’s district. As a congressional freshman, Landry didn’t have the muscle in the state legislature to do much about the severing of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes from his district, significantly diluting his political base.
Vitter downplayed the town halls, saying that he was merely joining Landry because the two had opposed the recent debt-and-deficit deal approved by Congress. Vitter noted that he was having similar meetings with ultraconservative Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming of Minden, who also voted against the final bill.
Vitter also mentioned that he was having events with Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy. But anyone who has watched Vitter knows he is one of the most strategically skilled politicians in Louisiana.
“Most appearances are entirely calculated,” said Joshua Stockley, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. “And David Vitter has demonstrated that he has been a very calculating individual.”
Landry and Vitter have much in common. Landry gained support for his election from several tea party activists. Vitter once introduced unsuccessful legislation calling for a tea party day.
The two recently teamed up to block President Barack Obama from making recess appointments by opposing adjournment resolutions and keeping Congress technically in session during recess. Vitter also recently called Landry a Cajun version of himself.
And Boustany, who voted for the debt-and-deficit deal, didn’t pound the pavement for Vitter’s re-election last year. The town hall moves show an alliance that should send a message to Boustany.
“It’s a big-time shot across the bow,” said G. Pearson Cross, head of the political science department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“It’s kind of an aggressive move by both,” Cross added. “You would expect Landry to move in that direction but the tacit approval and support of Vitter is a little surprising.”
Boustany has had little opposition since winning his seat in 2004 and ran unopposed in 2010. Landry, on the other hand, navigated a tough Republican primary, a brutal runoff with Republican former state House Speaker Hunt Downer and a convincing general election win.
And Landry showed he could raise money when needed, collecting $1 million over the three campaigns. After raising $12 million for his own campaign last year, Vitter could direct his financial supporters to Landry, providing a huge contribution boost.
Unlike the soft-spoken Boustany, Landry is gregarious, a “ferocious and dogged” campaigner, Cross said.
And if Landry gets into the race, Boustany can expect to have to deal with any transgressions that he may have had going all the way back to grade school. That Landry held the meetings in Lafayette and Lake Charles was a brazen move, Stockley said.
“He’s violating one of the unwritten rules, where you don’t raise money in someone’s district and you don’t campaign without the other person’s consent,” Stockley said.
Boustany still holds the advantage. By the time the race rolls around next year, he will be an eight-year incumbent with huge name recognition who has held strong voter support. But Boustany won’t be able to ignore that Landry is testing the waters.
“This is a whole new campaign if the campaign comes about,” Stockley said.
Gerard Shields is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is GerardShields@theadvocate.com.