Louisiana Rep. Boustany Tells Donors He Plans to Run for Senate in 2016

If Sen. David Vitter wins his race for governor of Louisiana, GOP Rep. Charles Boustany is already prepping a campaign to seek Vitter's seat.

Rep. Charles Boustany told supporters at a June fundraiser that he plans to run for the Senate in 2016 if Sen. David Vitter's 2015 gubernatorial run is successful, a donor told National Journal, and Boustany has hired an experienced Senate campaign manager to helm his political operation.

Boustany, a Louisiana Republican, has not publicly announced his Senate intentions, though in recent months he has taken steps that could be groundwork for a run if Vitter vacates his seat. But Donna Pelletier, the president of the Republican Women's Club in Acadiana, said that Boustany recently revealed his 2016 plans before a large Republican audience.

"The other night at the fundraiser he, at the podium, did announce that he is in fact going to be seeking the Senate seat when David Vitter wins," said Pelletier, who plans to support Boustany. "I was really surprised when he actually came out and confirmed that he was actually going to run, because he's been very coy about it."

Boustany's campaign confirmed that the fundraiser, a gathering of his closest friends and supporters at his mother's home in Lafayette, was the first time he'd laid out his plans for an audience. However, he's been discussing the possibilities with supporters across the state for the past several months.

"We're not going to get ahead of the governor's race. That has to play out; we'll see how it goes," Boustany told the gathering of about 250 supporters, according to a transcript provided by his campaign. "But the fact is you cannot wait to make plans. Your support is vital for all of this."

His campaign told National Journal on Monday that it raised more than $700,000 in the second quarter of 2015, beating the personal-best $657,000 that Boustany raised in the first quarter. The congressman is unopposed in a safely Republican congressional district, but everything he has stockpiled could be used in a Senate campaign. And Boustany hired a veteran Republican Senate campaign manager, Justin Brasell, several months ago. Brasell ran Sen. Tom Cotton's victorious campaign in Arkansas last year and also has managed campaigns for Sens. Mitch McConnell and John Thune.

If Vitter wins the governor's race in November, as is expected, he would have the ability to appoint his replacement. But there also would be a special election in 2016. That means prospective Senate hopefuls have to prepare for a variety of outcomes, including the possibility that Vitter appoints a placeholder, creating an open race on an expedited timeline.

Demonstrating early financial support from across the state is one way that Boustany can get an early leg up in that scenario.

"You get ready so you're ready when you need to be ready," Brasell said in an interview. "There's a governor's race going on in Louisiana and other statewide elections this year. Congressman Boustany is working very hard not to be a distraction with that."

But at the same time, Brasell said, "he's telling friends and supporters as he's traveling the state that, depending on what happens in the governor's race, he will consider a race for the United States Senate."

Boustany also has spoken to Sen. Roger Wicker, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and made his intentions clear to the committee, his campaign said.

Boustany wouldn't be the only Republican seeking to succeed Vitter. Rep. John Fleming told National Journal in late April that he would run for Senate in 2016 regardless of who Vitter appoints to finish his term (again, assuming Vitter becomes governor). Fleming also endorsed Vitter and said he believed he was a good candidate for the appointment because he and Vitter are "similarly aligned from a political viewpoint."

Another potential Senate hopeful, state Treasurer John Kennedy, is running for reelection in 2015. But his campaign leaked internal polling memos earlier this spring that showed him leading a hypothetical Senate race. He had nearly $3.5 million in his reelection account in January for a race that's not expected to be competitive, and his top aide recently created a federal super PAC.

Until now, Boustany has deflected questions about the Senate. In June, he told USA Today that he was waiting for the governor's race to be over, and he was simply "raising money for my next campaign and building support ... for whatever campaign it is." The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette recently called on him to make his political intentions known.

Boustany, meanwhile, has been "attached at the hip" to Vitter throughout the gubernatorial campaign, Pelletier said. Boustany gave an in-person endorsement to the senator's campaign earlier this year and has held joint meetings with Vitter to talk about their legislative collaboration.

Boustany allies believe that he can make a compelling case to Vitter as the most experienced choice for a Senate appointment, despite the fact that Vitter supported Boustany's opponent in his 2012 House race. They point to Boustany's work on efforts to repeal Obamacare and their collaboration on veterans' hospitals in the state.

"He's got a lot of legislative accomplishments," said Brasell. "He is by far and away the most accomplished legislator that is being mentioned for this seat. That is something he and Senator Vitter have in common; they like to get things done and they work well together."

That's a message Boustany is readying for the trail.

"We're going to need leadership as turnover is occurring in Louisiana politics," he told supporters at the fundraiser. "Leadership that can pull our delegation together, help get unprecedented coordination from our federal delegation at the state and local level, and deliver for you and continue Louisiana's path to greatness in driving this country's economy. I want to be a part of that. I want to do it in a place where I can be most effective."