Louisiana politics is starting to feel like a game of dominoes lately.
We’ve got a governor who’s presumably running for president, a senator who’s definitely running for governor and, now, the beginnings of a race for senator.
That’s one way to read a couple of otherwise unrelated recent developments.
One is that, after raising a whole bunch of money and making a whole lot of headlines with his prescriptions for getting the state’s fiscal house in order, John Kennedy will skip competitive races for governor and attorney general. Instead, the ambitious four-term treasurer will seek what will probably be an easy re-election.
The second is that U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany has endorsed his Washington colleague, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, to replace Bobby Jindal as governor.
This is noteworthy for several reasons. One is that there are two other major Republicans in the governor’s race, including one — Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle — who shares Boustany’s Acadiana home base (Vitter is from Metairie and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne from Baton Rouge).
The second, arguably more relevant, reason is that Boustany has never really been a Vitter guy.
Boustany is generally considered the least hard-line of the state’s veteran congressional Republicans; he’s an ally of House Speaker John Boehner, while his colleague Steve Scalise rose to prominence as a leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and John Fleming is an avowed tea partier.
Vitter, who’s naturally confrontational in both style and substance, has always had closer ties to the less compromising branch of the party. That includes Fleming, who has also endorsed him, as well as former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, who lost a 2012 face-off against Boustany after Louisiana lost a House seat and the Legislature merged their districts. Vitter didn’t endorse in that all-GOP showdown, but he caused some mischief by appearing at official events with Landry at the time. In a sign of changing times, he recently held a joint constituent meeting on energy with Boustany.
What Kennedy and Boustany — and Fleming, for that matter — have in common is that they’re all apparently eying Vitter’s seat, should it become available. Also possibly in the mix is retired Col. Rob Maness, the tea party favorite who took on Vitter-backed candidate Bill Cassidy in last fall’s Senate race against Mary Landrieu; Vitter has made a number of appearances with him, too, since the election.
Here’s how the scenario would play out. If Vitter is elected governor this fall and schedules his Senate resignation for the same time he takes his new oath of office, he would then have the power to appoint his own replacement. That person would serve out the final year of Vitter’s current six-year term, and an election for a new term would take place in the fall of 2016.
Vitter could appoint any one of these hopefuls, which would allow that person to run as an incumbent. Or — and this may be the more likely scenario — he could appoint a placeholder who would promise not to run for the full six-year term, thus rewarding everyone with a level playing field. All of the candidates would like Vitter’s support, but this way, at least, they know he won’t be working against them.
That’s what’s in it for them. But there’s plenty in it for Vitter, too.
In Kennedy’s case, one potential rival is out of the way, even though a gubernatorial race always did seem like a long shot; having already run twice, once as a Democrat and once as a Republican, Kennedy’s heart seems to be in the Senate.
With Boustany, the endorsement adds to the impression that Vitter can be a consensus GOP candidate, despite his often divisive past, and that he’s got momentum. That’s clearly the message his campaign is trying to send, as it piles up endorsements from Louisiana GOP leaders and out-of-state Republican bigwigs. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the party’s most prominent libertarian, is on board, too. So is Paul’s rival for the GOP presidential nomination, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who’s taking time off the trail to appear at a Vitter fundraiser, according to LaPolitics.com’s Jeremy Alford.
None of this should surprise longtime Vitter watchers, who know the senator has a habit of thinking several steps ahead. Turns out he’s not the only one.