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25.2.14

Landry entrance creates unpredictable AG contest

It was inevitable, as Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell exhibited more and more electoral vulnerability, that he would draw a serious challenger. Whether former Rep. Jeff Landry, who announced his entrance into the contest nearly two years away, can knock him off is another matter.



Caldwell is the most recent convert of the entire statewide elected executive officers to the Republican Party who didn’t start their elective careers with that label, but throughout his career in office continues to act in ways that make GOP voters and conservatives suspicious. He favored, contrary to state law, contingency contracts for outside counsel (unless they reduce the power he has over a case), refused to defend the state against federal overreach, ducked on enforcing state law regarding subsidiary governments committing themselves to expensive contracts, and chose poorly in pursuing jackpot justice that lost the state the opportunity to gain a realistic settlement. Landry criticized him on some of these matters and his political profile certainly suggests he might find fault with all of these Caldwell actions and the general perception that Caldwell is too eager to go after deep-pocketed entities in order to enrich allies and trial lawyers, which serves to discourage economic activity and to encourage activist government.



While Landry certainly has the conservative credentials, burnished with his one term in Congress, to assure voters that as attorney general he would intervene in civil matters judiciously (little of the office’s purview concerns criminal law) and in a balanced way that does not favor litigators nor acts punitively, it’s the non-ideological aspects of his candidacy that make his chances for victory less certain. It’s been many decades since an attorney (one with experience is a required qualification) without some connection to criminal prosecution held the office, although likely only a small number of voters would find this reason enough not to vote for Landry.


Perhaps more problematic is Landry didn’t leave Congress on the best of terms with some conservative activists because of his no-holds-barred attempt at reelection. With reapportionment throwing him into the same district with, and one that favored, incumbent GOP Rep. Charles Boustany, the attack mode that Landry felt he had to pursue against a senior Member not much less conservative than he not only failed significantly but also burned some bridges that have yet to be rebuilt. Had he gracefully retired and honed in immediately on state office behind the scenes, by now he might have established himself as a clear favorite with a bankroll already burgeoning.



As it is, conservatives probably recognize there’s unlikely a stronger candidate out there, given his past proven ability to campaign and raise money. And if it’s just those two, Caldwell might be the favorite because liberals and Democrats would choose him, along with enough Republicans turned off by Landry’s past bombast. By contrast, should a Democrat enter the contest, Caldwell likely would experience enough siphoning of votes that he would get squeezed out, setting up, given state demographics, Landry in a runoff he almost certainly wins, absent a Democrat candidate that credibly can hew to the center that presently, in terms of the available party bench, seems unavailable. The only other announced candidate is assistant district attorney for the 18th Judicial District Marty Maley, who is a recent switcher to the GOP, and at this point his presence either would not change this dynamic or push Caldwell and Landry into a runoff.



If this dynamic holds, out of anti-Landry sentiment Democrats might think twice about backing anybody, if not actively trying to discourage anyone willing to stick a “D” next to their ballot designation. An alternative strategy could be to help indirectly Maley instead, but even with Caldwell’s baggage the resources of incumbency make him the more likely candidate to stave off Landry. But if they are unsuccessful in keeping a non-Republican out of the race, they may feel their best shot is to go all in with Maley in the hopes somehow he can split the Republican anti-Caldwell vote and send Caldwell and the non-Republican to the runoff.



But the way things played out, Caldwell’s action in office have made him vulnerable, and Landry’s last campaign eroded his chances of successfully challenging. Thus this may produce the most entertaining and open contest on the 2015 ballot – after, of course, the governor’s race.

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