WASHINGTON — Louisiana is in the middle of a major election cycle, with the governor and other statewide officials on the ballot this fall, but members of the state's congressional delegation have also been quietly building up campaign funds ahead of 2020, when all but one of them will be up for re-election.
That's not to say that any of them — U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson), House Majority Assistant Whip Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans), House Republican Study Committee Chair Mike Johnson; Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge), Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Port Barre), Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-Alto) or Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge) — face an immediate threat of losing a re-election bid if they run again.
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The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated all seven as "solid seats" that the incumbents should easily win.
Of the seven, two have more than $2 million in their campaign bank accounts, another has more than $1 million and two others have about half a million, according to campaign finance disclosures filed this month.
Cassidy, in his first term after toppling Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu in a blistering 2014 campaign, leads the pack with about $3.5 million cash on hand, after taking in more than $845,000 in contributions in the first three months of 2019 — nearly a third of that from political action committees.
"Bill is energized for the enthusiasm shown for his 2020 reelection," Cassidy political director Drew Marato said.
State lawmakers are in a frenzied push to bulk up their campaign coffers before they hit a black-out period when they are barred from raising …
Cassidy's Senate colleague, John Kennedy, the only member of the delegation not up for election next fall, has $3.2 million in his campaign account.
Scalise, the second-highest ranking Republican in the House, had $2.6 million as of the March 31 end of the reporting period, after raking in more than $2.5 million so far in 2019 and spending $1.7 million, which included consultant fees, travel and transfers to other Republican candidates' funds.
Graves reported having $1.5 million cash on hand; Johnson reported $548,000; Richmond had $447,000; Higgins had $80,000; and Abraham, who is currently running for governor and has been fundraising for that race instead of his House account, had about $70,000.
During the 2018 mid-term election cycle, when members of the U.S. House were last on the ballot, each incumbent sailed to re-election with more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, avoiding a runoff under Louisiana's "jungle" primary system.
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In 2020, Republicans in conservative Louisiana could also benefit if President Donald Trump is again on the ballot. In 2016, Trump received more than 58 percent of the vote and more individual votes than any candidate ever before on a Louisiana ballot.
“You never know when you are going to need to fund-raise. It’s not something you can start up and shut down,” University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science professor Pearson Cross said. “Experienced people fund-raise all the time. It’s like a muscle you exercise. You just want to make sure you don't get stale.”
When Louisiana lost a House seat during the most recent redistricting cycle in 2011, Republicans, led by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal, drew districts that have not been competitive between Republican and Democratic candidates, Cross said. Republicans have consistently held the majority white 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th districts, while Democrats have had the 2nd District, which is majority black.
“The delegates right now are pretty well matched for the districts they are serving in,” Cross said.
Often, seats are considered "safe" for incumbents unless there is a scandal, death, retirement or someone attempting to move on, but there are other reasons they continue to raise funds.
“One is to scare off any opposition,” Cross said.
Scalise, who was first elected to the House in 2008, is the longest-serving member of the Louisiana delegation. Other than Richmond, who took office in 2011, the rest of the House members are in their second or third terms. A well-funded candidate can be intimidating.
“You look at (Graves') account and you think, ‘Wow, I’ve got to have a lot of money to run against him,’” Cross said.
It also could reaffirm support among constituents.
“I think when people see that big campaign account, there is a psychological element that ‘This person has a lot of support,’” Cross said.
For Scalise, in particular, fundraising also has meant backing other Republicans' campaigns. Part of his role in the House GOP leadership is to help elect more Republicans.
Scalise's separate Scalise Leadership Fund raised more than $2.8 million in the first quarter of 2019 and transferred about half of that to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which aids Republican candidates for the House.
Scalise has been open about his ambition to continue up the leadership ranks since he was first elected whip in 2014, when Republicans controlled the chamber, and took on the No. 3 job.
“There are other people you’d like to help get re-elected who you would like to have as an ally," Cross said.
Money in the bank
Here's how much money members of Louisiana's congressional delegation reported having in their campaign coffers as of March 31, 2019:
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge): $3.5 million
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-Madisonville): $3.2 million
U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson): $2.6 million
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge): $1.5 million
U.S. House Republican Study Committee Chair Mike Johnson (R-Shreveport): $548,000
U.S. House Majority Assistant Whip Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans): $447,000
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Port Barre): $80,000
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-Alto): $70,000*
*-currently running for Louisiana governor
Source: Campaign finance disclosures due to the Federal Election Commission April 15