More than four weeks after Election Day, the fate of one member of Congress is still undecided.
The Louisiana runoff between Reps. Charles Boustany (R) and Jeff Landry (R) in the Bayou State's 3rd District will take place Saturday after neither was able to top 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 6.
Landry is the nominal incumbent, since Boustany's 7th District was eliminated after Louisiana lost a seat in the decennial redistricting process. But Boustany has geography on his side, as the new district's population centers are more weighted toward his old seat.
And after taking 45 percent to Landry's 30 percent in the all-party primary on Nov. 6, Boustany also claims to have the momentum in the runoff. Late last month, an internal poll released by the Boustany campaign showed Boustany leading Landry 56 percent to 29 percent.
Boustany, who has closer ties to party leadership than his tea party-backed challenger, has fueled his runoff push with a campaign war chest that Landry has been unable to match.
Federal Election Commission reports show Boustany had spent more than $3.7 million on the race by Nov. 18 to Landry's $1.9 million. Between mid-October and mid-November, Boustany outraised Landry by nearly 3-to-1. And with three weeks to go before the runoff, Boustany had $732,000 on hand to Landry's $189,000.
While both candidates claim to be conservative, Landry's outspoken style and tea party credentials may have served to box him in for the runoff, said John Maginnis, a syndicated Louisiana political columnist and publisher of the nonpartisan LaPolitics newsletter.
"It's a lot easier for Boustany to move to the right than it is for Landry to move to the center," Maginnis said. "I think Boustany has the center without having to give up much. ... Landry has sort of shut himself off from the center."
Maginnis added, "This race may have been won back in the [state] Legislature, when Boustany got a district that was much more favorable to him than it was to Landry."
On Capitol Hill yesterday, Landry said he "feels great" about the runoff, but the usually chatty congressman wasn't inclined to discuss specifics. He referred questions about polling and runoff strategy to his campaign manager, Brent Littlefield.
"There is not a single legitimate poll that has been publicly discussed," Littlefield said yesterday. "Candidates who publicly discuss polls usually have a motivation behind that discussion. The poll that matters is the poll that voters are going to take on Election Day."
While Boustany has received more financial support from his congressional colleagues -- including $5,000 from House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) Freedom Project PAC -- Landry isn't without backing among House Republicans.
Several members of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative House Republicans that includes Landry, are supporting the freshman congressman.
"You've got two good guys, but Jeff Landry is a guy who's up here fighting," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has gone to Louisiana to campaign for Landry, whom he called a friend.
Asked about Boustany's poll numbers, Jordan also downplayed their importance.
"It's like so many elections. ... It's about turnout," he said.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R), who like the rest of the Louisiana delegation is staying neutral in the contest, said yesterday that voter turnout is key to the election with overall small numbers expected at the polls.
"You probably had close to 70 percent turnout in the primary, and you've got to figure it's going to be closer to 20 percent in the runoff," Scalise said. "When you've got such low turnout, polls are less important than who's got the best turnout operation."
Asked about the race's nasty tone -- with both sides accusing the other of outright lying -- Scalise said that is not unusual in member-on-member races.
Still, he said, it's been tough for the delegation to watch.
"We're all going to be glad when it's over," he said.
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