The Republican fundraising group created by U.S. Sen. David Vitter has targeted 10 state House seats and four state Senate seats this fall, hoping to switch them to the GOP and boost Republican majorities in both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature.
The state Senate seats targeted by the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority are open because of term limits, including the district currently held by the Senate president. But a list Vitter provided to The Associated Press shows some of the targeted House seats in the Oct. 22 election have first-term Democratic incumbents the group wants to oust.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but I feel very good we’re going to increase our margins,” said Vitter, R-La.
While the state Republican Party has inserted itself in races where GOP candidates are battling, Vitter said his organization is steering clear of disputes within party ranks — and won’t try to defeat Republican incumbents who are criticized as too moderate.
Vitter and a group of GOP business leaders formed the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority group, also known as LCRM, in 2005, bringing a more organized, Washington-style campaign strategy to state legislative races, complete with detailed polling and opposition research.
The LCRM organization runs separately from any fundraising done by the state Republican Party, which has not until recently developed a statewide approach to legislative elections and which now appears to be following the lead of Vitter’s organized effort with the help of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Since the last round of legislative elections, the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority has taken advantage of the start of term limits, the unpopularity of Democratic President Barack Obama in Louisiana and a steady state move to the right. The organization has spent more than $3 million since the start of its work to elect conservative GOP candidates.
With gains from the 2007 elections, party switches and special elections to fill vacancies, Republicans took control of the Louisiana House late last year and gained a majority in the Louisiana Senate earlier this year. The GOP holds 22 of 39 Senate seats and 55 of 105 House seats.
Vitter said his organization wants to increase the Senate majority to up to 26 seats and House GOP control to the low 60s.
“Collectively, we have now set the new perception that any white majority district in the state can elect a Republican,” he said.
The executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, Renee Lapeyrolerie, said she didn’t expect the LCRM to hit its targets.
“We certainly are going to protect our incumbents, and we’ve identified some pickup seats as well,” Lapeyrolerie said. “We’re just as committed to not only holding our seats, but either taking the majority back or certainly not losing any ground.”
Targeted by LCRM are four Senate seats across south Louisiana where longtime Democratic incumbents are term-limited, including seats currently held by state Senate President Joel Chaisson, of Destrehan, and state Sens. Butch Gautreaux, of Morgan City; Rob Marionneaux, of Grosse Tete; and Willie Mount, of Lake Charles.
Of the 10 Louisiana House seats on the list, targeted Democratic incumbents seeking a second term include state Reps. James Armes, of Leesville; Robert Johnson, of Marksville; Bernard LeBas, of Ville Platte; and Jack Montoucet, of Scott. The other seats are open because of term limits or because first-term Democrats have decided against running for re-election.
“This is open to change. This is just a snapshot right now. Obviously we haven’t had qualifying yet, so this list can expand and change in various ways,” Vitter said.
The qualifying period for fall elections will be held Sept. 6-8.
Vitter performed strongly in his 2010 election in nearly all the targeted districts. But Lapeyrolerie said Louisiana residents don’t vote along party lines in local and state races, and she said GOP victories in a federal election don’t mean a district will sway Republican in a state legislative race.
Besides adding new members, the Republican organization also is trying to persuade some white Democrats with conservative voting records to switch to the GOP. On that target list is Rep. Taylor Barras, D-New Iberia, who has a strong voting record with business interests.
Among those involved with the LCRM are several regular big-ticket GOP donors, including shipbuilder Donald “Boysie” Bollinger, of Lockport, and real estate developer Joseph Canizaro, of New Orleans.
Contributors can donate $100,000 each for the election cycle.
Under campaign finance laws, Vitter’s committee cannot legally coordinate with candidates, but it does partner with other third-party groups to try to increase its influence.
La. races targeted by Vitter group
The Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority is seeking to increase GOP seats in the state Legislature this fall. A look at the seats the group is targeting, the incumbents and the candidates backed by the organization:
• Senate District 17: Democratic incumbent Rob Marionneaux, of Grosse Tete (term-limited); Republican candidate Michael James.
• Senate District 19: Democratic incumbent Joel Chaisson of Destrehan (term-limited); Republican candidate Garret Monti, of Luling.
• Senate District 21: Democratic incumbent Butch Gautreaux, of Morgan City, (term-limited); Republican candidates Bret Allain, of Adeline; and Darrin Guidry, of Houma.
• Senate District 27: Democratic incumbent Willie Mount, of Lake Charles (term-limited); Republican candidate Ronnie Johns, of Sulphur.
• House District 10: Democratic incumbent Jean Doerge, of Minden (term-limited); Republican candidates Gerald Holland, of Springhill; and Ronnie Broughton, of Minden.
• House District 25: Democratic incumbent Chris Roy, of Alexandria (not running); Republican candidate Barret Byrd, of Woodworth.
• House District 28: Democratic incumbent Robert Johnson, of Marksville; Republican candidate Kirby Roy, of Hessmer.
• House District 30: Democratic incumbent James Armes, of Leesville; Republican candidate Jack Causey, of Leesville.
• House District 38: Democratic incumbent Bernard LeBas, of Ville Platte; Republican candidate Peter Vidrine, of Eunice.
• House District 39: Democratic incumbent Bobby Badon, of Carencro (not running); Republican candidate Don Menard, of Carencro.
• House District 42: Democratic incumbent Jack Montoucet, of Scott; Republican candidate Anthony Emmons, of Rayne.
• House District 56: Democratic incumbent Gary Smith, of Norco,(term-limited); Republican candidate Gregory Miller, of Destrehan.
• House District 103: Democratic incumbent Reed Henderson, of Violet,(not running); Republican candidate Ray Garafola, of Chalmette.
• House District 105: Independent incumbent Ernest Wooton, of Belle Chasse,(term-limited); Republican candidate Chris Leapold, of Belle Chasse.
Source: U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority