Candidates sign-up for upcoming La. elections
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and his Democratic challenger, Charlie Melancon, both signed up for the Senate race Wednesday, on the opening day of qualifying.
Vitter is seeking a second term, his first time facing voters after a 2007 prostitution scandal. Melancon is leaving a U.S. House seat representing southeast Louisiana to challenge the incumbent senator.
Each tried to paint the other as partisan puppets. Vitter talked of Melancon’s support of President Barack Obama and Melancon’s vote for the federal stimulus package, while Melancon portrayed himself as a centrist and Vitter as a GOP obstructionist who works for his party, rather than the state.
“It has been hard-core, right-wing partisan politics, period,” Melancon said of Vitter’s first term in the Senate.
Vitter called himself a leader on conservative issues and said, “We need to have the proper checks and balances against what is in many ways a radical Obama agenda.”
It was Vitter’s first time talking to a bank of reporters since an ABC News report two weeks ago disclosed one of his aides had repeatedly run into trouble with the law, and pleaded guilty two years ago to a knife-wielding altercation with an ex-girlfriend. The aide, Brent Furer, resigned June 23, after the story broke.
Vitter sidestepped nearly all questions about the resignation, refusing to explain why he kept Furer on staff after his guilty plea.
The qualifying period runs until Friday at 5 p.m. It’s the official opening of Louisiana’s campaign season, when candidates file the paperwork and pay the fees required to run for office.
Registering for their races Wednesday were five of the six incumbent congressmen seeking re-election: Republican U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise of Jefferson, Joseph Cao of New Orleans, John Fleming of Minden, Rodney Alexander of Quitman and Charles Boustany of Lafayette. Fleming didn’t show up in person to sign up.
Despite a national wave of discontent with incumbents, the congressmen expressed confidence in holding onto their seats.
“Everybody’s mad. They just don’t know who to be mad at. I’m frustrated, too,” said Alexander, who represents the 5th District covering central Louisiana. But he added, “We don’t sense they’re unhappy with us.”
Melancon’s exit from the U.S. House leaves a rare, vacant congressional seat. Two candidates have signed up so far in the 3rd District race representing much of coastal, south Louisiana.
While most of the incumbents haven’t attracted well-known opposition, Cao is expected to face a tough battle from Democrats for his New Orleans-based seat. Two Democratic state representatives, Juan LaFonta and Cedric Richmond, signed up to challenge Cao, along with a little-known independent candidate, Anthony Marquize.
Cao, the first Vietnamese-American member of Congress, defeated Rep. William Jefferson two years ago after Jefferson was indicted on corruption charges. But the 2nd District is mostly Democratic, and Democrats have targeted Cao as vulnerable.
“I think he’s out of touch with the district,” Richmond said, citing Cao’s vote against the stimulus bill and the federal health care overhaul.
“We don’t really have a leader,” LaFonta said. “And we don’t really have somebody who speaks up for the people of New Orleans.”
Cao said he wasn’t worried, saying he has represented the district well and not based on partisan politics.
“I’ve always made decisions based on the needs of my district, based on the needs of my people,” he said.
Also up for election is the lieutenant governor’s post Mitch Landrieu left earlier this year to become New Orleans mayor. Three Republican candidates qualified for that race: Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis and state Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere.
The first election is Aug. 28, a party primary for congressional candidates. The open primary for the lieutenant governor’s race will be Oct. 2. The general election is Nov. 2.