On the campaign trail last week, the rhetoric was all location, location, location.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who has received no end to the grief about her $2 million “mansion” in Washington, D.C., took a few minutes during a Bogalusa speech to jab at the lakefront “mansion” owned by her main Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Meanwhile, Garret Graves, a Republican who is running for the 6th Congressional District, has been batting back blogger attacks on his $800,000 “mansion,” located a few blocks from Landrieu’s.
Landrieu has battled the residency issue repeatedly during her 18 years as senator. But it is a particularly virulent issue this year as she is considered a vulnerable Democrat in the GOP push to control the Senate. This year, the home-front skirmish is pulling in other campaigns.
At the Bogalusa rally, Landrieu described her Capitol Hill home as “36 feet wide.” Cassidy, on the other hand, lives in plush digs on a lakefront, she said.
Her townhouse, which is about four blocks from the U.S. Capitol, is 5,247 square feet with 4½ bathrooms, according to Zillow, a real estate marketing website.
Graves’ townhouse is seven blocks farther east and is 1,236 square feet with 1½ bathrooms, Zillow reports.
Both properties are in a historic district that recently gentrified after decades of high crime. Landrieu’s home is in a tonier section that rebounded before the more middle-class neighborhood where Graves’ house sits.
Graves attended American University, then worked for a couple of congressmen, then as a staffer for a Senate committee. He and his wife were crammed into a small basement apartment with a couple of kids when in 2005 they bought the townhouse for about $690,000.
Graves recalls it as an eclectic neighborhood. “I’d walk to work every morning. It was great,” he said.
His Jindal administration job came up in 2008, and the housing market crashed. When they moved to Baton Rouge, the D.C. house wouldn’t sell for anything near what he and his wife paid for it, Graves said.
Cassidy’s home overlooks University Lake at the gates of LSU and is arguably nicer than Landrieu’s and Graves’. He and his wife, both doctors, bought their home in 1990 and have lived in it ever since. Because it has been so long off the market, Zillow estimates the price at $254,000, which would be a steal.
What this really points out is that even in a recession, D.C. real estate is pricey.
Like Graves, Landrieu says she bought a D.C. house to keep her family together under the same roof. Though aimed at Landrieu, the residency issues have become so toxic that most of the Graves campaign opponents shut down any talk of living in Washington.
“Definitely my wife is not going,” said Craig McCulloch, a fellow Republican who lives in the rural village of Ethel.
Republican State Sen. Dan Claitor said he and his wife would not take residence in D.C., even though his children are grown.
Republican Trey Thomas homeschools his small children but would stay in Baton Rouge.
Paul Dietzel, a Republican who is single and younger than 30, says he too would spend more time on the plane and not set up full-time housekeeping in the young folks’ paradise that is our nation’s capital.
And state Rep. Lenar Whitney, who raised money in D.C. and goes there frequently as one of the state’s representatives to the Republican National Committee, says she would continue to live in Houma, where her house is actually in the 1st Congressional District. (Candidates for the U.S. House are not required to live in the district they represent.)
Democrat Edwin W. Edwards, the 87-year-old former governor with a 1-year-old son, said he’d live wherever “the people want him to serve.”
Woody Jenkins, who lost to Landrieu in 1996 by fewer than 6,000 votes, says the issue is not housing, it’s roots.
The peers of full-time legislators, isolated and far from home, end up being lobbyists and other lawmakers, whom they see each day, said Jenkins, a publisher and chairman of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party.
But the idea is for congressmen to speak for their community, he said. That requires lawmakers to spend time at home, run their businesses, mow their lawns, go shopping and surround themselves with neighbors, not special interest lobbyists.
“The biggest influence on legislators ends up being their peer group,” Jenkins said. “It’s the question of who is in the legislator’s peer group.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB.