The last undecided U.S. congressional race of the 2012 campaign also is one of its most unusual: a matchup between two Louisiana Republican incumbents with different backgrounds and bases of support.
Charles Boustany Jr., a four-term congressman on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is favored to defeat Jeff Landry, a freshman aligned with the Tea Party Caucus, which supports cutting government spending and taxes. The contest will be decided in a runoff election tomorrow in a Republican-friendly swath of southwestern Louisiana bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
The Boustany-Landry race is “kind of a microcosm of the struggle within the Republican Party about what’s the future of the Republican Party,” Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said in an interview.
It’s a battle, Cross said, between “younger, insurgent elements” who are less prone to compromise, represented by Landry, 41, and more establishment-style candidates like Boustany, 56, who have a “leadership-oriented, get-on-a-committee, dig-in-to-the-detail wonkish approach to government.”
The race isn’t much of a fair fight.
Boustany’s advantages begin with favorable political geography. A redrawing of congressional lines combined his district with Landry’s to reflect slow-growing Louisiana’s loss of one seat after the 2010 Census. Boustany now represents about three-fourths of the people in the merged district, compared with about one-fourth for Landry.
“It’s just been a case of there being more voters here comfortable with Boustany than were comfortable with Landry, and Boustany has had four terms to make friends,” Cross said.
Boustany’s stronger ties to the revamped district propelled him to a 45 percent to 30 percent lead over Landry in the first-round of voting on Nov. 6, a contest that included candidates of all parties and triggered a runoff because none got more than 50 percent.
Boustany’s other big advantage is fundraising. He outraised Landry by $887,000 to $300,000 in the 32-day period that ended Nov. 18, and has spent $3.7 million to Landry’s $1.9 million since the beginning of 2011, Federal Election Commission reports show.
As a member of Ways and Means, Boustany can raise money from companies seeking to influence the tax, trade and health policies under the committee’s purview.
Companies including Bank of America Corp., Humana Inc. and Federal Express Corp. made political donations to Boustany’s campaign within the past week, FEC records show.
Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee aiding Boustany include Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan and Peter Roskam of Illinois, the party’s chief deputy whip in the House.
Landry is backed by some lawmakers first elected to Congress with him in 2010, when Republicans won control of the House. A few of them appeared in a campaign ad for Landry.
Outside groups active in the race include FreedomWorks for America, an anti-tax advocacy group backing Landry, and Louisiana Prosperity Fund, a super-political action committee aiding Boustany with ads attacking Landry for missing votes. The super-PAC’s donors include Louisiana energy executive William Dore.
Boustany and Landry see eye-to-eye on most policy issues. Both oppose raising tax rates as part of a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, the combination of more than $600 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to begin in January if President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress don’t reach an agreement on an alternative deficit-reduction package.
In one ad, Boustany says his “real record of conservative accomplishments” includes opposition to abortion and gun control measures and votes to repeal Obama’s 2010 health-care overhaul.
Landry has highlighted Boustany’s votes to raise the national debt limit and for a $700 billion financial rescue package in 2008 as a credit crisis deepened.