Wednesday, August 24, 2011
By Jeremy Alford
Photos by Daniel Landry
Rookie Congressman Jeff Landry of New Iberia found a home in the Tea Party and an alliance with Sen. David Vitter. But is either a path to re-election?
It was easy to write off Jeff Landry last November. Granted, he had just clinched the 3rd Congressional District and toppled former state House Speaker Hunt Downer in the process. But Landry, an Iberia Parish attorney who hadn’t held elective office before, was also immediately labeled as the odd man out.
Louisiana was just beginning the process of redistricting, and one of its seven congressional districts needed to be axed. All of the smart money was on Landry’s 3rd, especially since he was new to the fold, and the special redistricting session conducted by state lawmakers earlier this year made good on those bets.
Instead of running for re-election in his own congressional district in 2012, Landry will be forced to face off against fellow incumbent Rep. Charles Boustany, a Lafayette native likewise under the Republican banner. Up until recently, that hasn’t boded well for Landry.
In fact, after the spring redistricting session put all the pieces into motion, officials with the Louisiana Republican Party lobbied Landry to run against Attorney General Buddy Caldwell. But that was back when Caldwell was still a Democrat. He has since switched parties and was endorsed just last week by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican.
It was a comic twist of fate, considering Landry and Vitter have become among the closest of Louisiana allies on the Hill. Recent radio ads have been publicizing a set of town hall meetings the pair is holding this week in Lafayette and Lake Charles — the two most populous hubs in Boustany’s current 7th Congressional District.
The radio script mentions Vitter and Landry five times — together, as a team almost. And it’s not a well-guarded secret that Vitter and Boustany are anything but friends. Does this mean Vitter is getting involved and endorsing the rookie from New Iberia? “I wouldn’t want to speculate on that,” Landry says. “But I think it’s safe to say the senator and I do enjoy a very close relationship when it comes to politics and issues.”
Landry says he first sparked a relationship with Vitter as a political contributor dating back at least a decade. Then in 2007, Landry ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate and received support from the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority, which Vitter helped create.
Vitter is still raising money for LCRM, an entity with no connections to the Louisiana Republican Party. Instead, Gov. Bobby Jindal is among the main architects behind the party’s coordinated approach this year, which is one of the many reasons there’s a developing narrative that is pitting Vitter against Jindal for control of the heart of the state party.
While the relationship between Vitter and Landry seems to be ripening only now, sources say the pair truly bonded over the redistricting process, which Vitter supposedly watched closely with a keen eye on Boustany’s fate.
At a glance, the two men have a lot in common, aside from their aggressive style of politics. Both have been charbroiled by opponents on touchy issues — Vitter for a prostitution scandal, Landry on old business dealings and military service — and both have been acquitted, so to speak, by the electorate. Both are still standing.
Last week, a Vitter staffer called Landry a “more Cajun version of David.” Landry laughed when he read the line. “I certainly take it as an honor,” Landry says. “It’s flattering. He’s a person I can trust, someone who will shoot straight with me.”