Boustany, along with Rep. John Fleming and former Rep. Joseph Cao, have all formally launched their campaigns (Fleming in a video, Cao in a Christmas e-card), while two others, 2014 Senate candidate Rob Maness and Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta have formed exploratory committees.
State Treasurer John Kennedy, who hasn’t spoken publicly about the race, distributed to supporters positive polling numbers from a survey conducted by a super PAC formed to support him in a Senate race.
His campaign wasn’t official until last week, but Boustany held a nearly identical fundraiser at his childhood home in June, telling donors that when Vitter became governor at the end of the year, he would be interested in the vacant seat. The expectation, Boustany and others believed, was that the newly elected governor would appoint a successor, or, at minimum, assist one contender in the open-seat race.
But Vitter’s stunning defeat and decision to retire threw many of those plans into a tailspin. Without his influence, a small field of interested candidates—who all endorsed Vitter for governor—grew quickly to include candidates who wouldn’t have necessarily been in the running for the appointment. In particular, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, a chief rival of Vitter in the gubernatorial race who narrowly missed the runoff, said he’s looking at the Senate contest and will make a decision soon after the holidays.
For Boustany, a center-right Republican and the dean of the congressional delegation, closing off Angelle’s support base is particularly critical. Boustany would start with a significant advantage if he can dominate the southwest region of the state, known as Acadiana, where both men are from. If he can’t, allies say the two are likely in for mutually assured destruction.
“If you split Acadiana between those two, and you would, it’s going to be tough for them to gather enough support to get into a runoff, and that’d probably bode very well for Fleming,” said Bret Allain, a state senator from St. Mary’s Parish in Acadiana, and a personal friend of both men. Allain hasn’t made an endorsement in the race, and says he won’t do so until the field settles.
While Boustany’s issue is geographical, Fleming, a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has competition threatening to divide his ideological base.
Fleming hopes to rally the Far Right’s support, much of which aligned with Maness in the 2014 Senate race. Maness, a retired Air Force colonel who made his first bid for office last year, has formed an exploratory committee and kept in touch with many of the groups Fleming hopes to court.
Though Fleming announced his candidacy with the support of Citizens United Political Victory Fund, another major player, the Senate Conservatives Fund, says it’s keeping its options open. In an interview with National Journal shortly after Maness filed for the race, John Brabender, a senior adviser to Fleming’s campaign, acknowledged the overlap in their bases, but said he was confident many of Maness’s allies in 2014 would be with Fleming this time.