Most political candidates keep a running countdown to Election Day. Paul Dietzel can also rattle off exactly how long it’s been since he decided to run for Louisiana’s open 6th Congressional District seat. As of Wednesday, he said as he sat down for an interview, it had been 538 days.
There’s an app for that, his campaign manager chimed in.
Of course there is, and if any of the dozen people hoping to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy would have it downloaded, it makes perfect sense that it would be the tech-savvy upstart from Baton Rouge.
The other takeaway from the exchange: Dietzel’s been at this a long time now. And that, in addition to his famous name, helps explains how the fresh-faced tech entrepreneur cracked the top tier.
But first, that name.
Say “Paul Dietzel” to many voters, and they’ll likely conjure grainy pictures of gridiron glory gone by. The Paul Dietzel on the ballot, though, is the grandson of the legendary LSU coach. At 28, he’s, by far, the youngest candidate. He’s also brand-new to politics. Until now, he’s been busy running a business he founded, which provides fundraising software to help groups collect donations.
Dietzel acknowledged that the name gives him a leg up. To the extent that it exists, voter confusion is his friend.
“Names in political elections always are a big deal. It’s how people remember you. Fortunately in my case, my grandfather had a great legacy. He touched many people,” Dietzel said.
Yet, the candidate said he wants to stand on his own two feet, and rejects the notion that people are supporting him out of loyalty to a legacy.
“My grandfather passed away a year ago. My grandfather can’t do anything for them,” he said.
Even with his advantages, there’s something audacious about aiming so high so soon. Many candidates at this stage run for local or legislative seats, then work their way up.
Dietzel says he’s simply more interested in federal priorities — things like cybersecurity, including the vulnerability of the nation’s electrical grid, and also a general aversion to taxes, regulation and inefficiency.
“Through the course of business, having employees, experiencing different departments … I was already kind of fed up with the overreach, and the way that government got in my way. I looked at my employees and saw the money that came out of their paychecks, and I was like, ‘This is ridiculous.’
“And then, being the ‘quant’ that I am, I started looking at the numbers, and I was like, ‘Man, 53 percent of our country is under the age of 40, and it’s only about 6 percent of Congress,’ ” he said. “If we have all these problems and all these things that are being pushed off to the next generation, to the future, then we need to have leaders from the future step forward.”
Just how that would translate into policy isn’t entirely clear.
Dietzel said people “give (House Republicans) a hard time, saying that they don’t want to compromise,” but that “the last few years, all I see is Republicans compromising.” But he didn’t provide a specific example.
“I’m just saying in general,” he said.
At forums, Dietzel spews out specific programs he’d like to cut, including teacher training programs in the Department of Education and grants from the Justice Department.
When asked, he acknowledged that those programs have constituencies and are often pretty popular.
“We are in a bad situation. There are going to have to be cuts. There will be cuts that affect different people,” he said. “Just from a sky-level view, let’s start making the difficult decisions and making those cuts.”
For all the next-generation talk, Dietzel’s done surprisingly well rounding up the old guard during those 500-plus days. It hasn’t hurt that he’s not shy about asking.
He rubbed elbows with national GOP bigwigs when the Iowa straw poll used his company’s software, and now boasts support from Mike Huckabee and Herman Cain, who once employed Dietzel’s campaign manager, J Hudson. He had “three or four lines” to Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger who pushes tea party candidates, and nabbed that endorsement, too.
As of mid-summer, he’d raised well over $400,000 and has collected donations from some of the GOP’s best-known local donors. He’s gotten endorsements from former Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field, who played for his grandfather; ex-U.S. Rep. Henson Moore, whom Dietzel said he cold-called seeking advice; and former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, now a superstar lobbyist.
Livingston said they met when Dietzel asked him to invest in his company. Livingston didn’t but said Dietzel kept in touch and asked for support early on, before the field solidified.
“He’d come by my office to talk. I was impressed by him,” Livingston said.
But is he ready? Livingston pointed out that he was elected at 33, and that John Breaux was sworn in when he was Dietzel’s age. So “I think he’s exceptionally qualified,” Livingston said.