Right now they’re just shadowboxing. They’re throwing jabs at an imaginary opponent from the comfort of their Beltway offices, shuffling in their shirtsleeves and loosening up their political muscles. They’ll have to weigh in by qualifying in mid-August, and the primary fight, where all candidates will have to slug it out on one ballot, is slated for Nov. 6. A runoff, if needed, has been prepared for early December.
Although any qualified candidate in the 3rd Congressional District can enter the ring, the contest has thus far been defined by two very different Republicans: incumbent Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette and Rep. Jeff Landry of New Iberia. Technically, both enjoy the status of being an incumbent congressman, only Landry’s district was eliminated during the recent redistricting process.
There was a great deal of drama in that process, and it helped shape the race as it appears before us today. That’s all to say there are other personalities that could help direct the narrative in the coming months. In Landry’s corner is U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who, more notably, is definitely not a Boustany booster in any shape or form. Boustany, however, does have a close relationship with Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has had frosty relations with Vitter over the past few years.
Should both Vitter, whose poll numbers have been trending upwards, and Jindal, whose numbers are dipping, get involved in the race, it’ll be monumental. Not only will real cracks begin to show in the GOP, but a whole segment of the electorate alienated by Jindal — teachers and state employees — could become a factor.
African-American, Democratic and independent voters are wild cards as well. Sources say Boustany has inroads to black communities, built partly by his family’s deep roots in Lafayette proper — his late father was parish coroner — and through the old-fashioned way, meaning cash, like campaign dollars and federal money.
Landry’s campaign, meanwhile, proudly boasted two years ago of his strong showing in black precincts. Landry was likewise successful in courting conservative independents, like tea party voters, in 2010. He may be aided by the fact that non-Republicans in the newly drawn district have had more time to watch Boustany’s stances conflict with theirs.
Democrats have yet to offer up a viable candidate, but that would certainly add a new layer of mystery. They would have to be well-funded. According to first quarter fundraising, Boustany has $1.5 million in the bank and Landry has $820,000. While that gives Boustany an advantage, expect Landry to attempt to leverage his underdog status. He’s accepting donations carefully at this stage and won’t be shy about pointing at Boustany’s PAC donations — for this cycle, Boustany has $684,000, the highest amount in the Louisiana House delegation; Landry has $140,000, the smallest tally.
The new ballots may become a factor as well, as New Iberia voters see Boustany in their booths and Lake Charles voters find surprise with Landry’s name. We’re basically talking about folks who have no idea that redistricting happened.
Pearson Cross, political science professor at UL Lafayette, says that portion of the electorate will soon begin to shrink. The very nature of American politics will prompt candidates to spend money, and media organizations will react by ramping up coverage. “My sense is voters will adjust to the changes pretty quickly, but there might be some hangover pains as a result,” Cross says. Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at UL Monroe, agrees. “There will probably be a few people who will have some confusion. How much? That’s hard to ascertain right now,” he says. “But it’ll only be minimal. And it probably won’t last.”
For now, it’s all about getting in shape. But that won’t last long, either, because, eventually, punches will be thrown. Landry’s business background became a source of negative attacks two years ago, and Boustany has a list of policy decisions that can easily be spun to his detriment — voting to raise the debt ceiling chief among them. That’s all to say that when the final bell rings, this particular fight might be decided by the man who can take, not throw, the most punches.
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