BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming said Thursday that he won't enter the U.S. Senate race against Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu because he doesn't want to divide GOP support.
Fleming's announcement comes after Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy jumped into the race this week. Fleming, in his third term representing northwest Louisiana, said his top priority is ousting Landrieu and he didn't want to threaten the ability to defeat her next year.
"For me to enter the race now would risk a contest between two experienced Republican congressmen, potentially offering Sen. Landrieu a path back to Washington. I can't let that happen," Fleming said in a statement.
His decision appears to start solidifying Republican support behind Cassidy, a Baton Rouge doctor who was elected to Congress in 2008, even as other GOP contenders have been eyeing the November 2014 race.
Fleming called Cassidy a friend who "offers Louisiana's voters a Republican alternative necessary in 2014 to replace a big-government Washington liberal."
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter stopped short of a Cassidy endorsement Thursday, but he issued a statement saying Fleming's decision "makes it clear that Bill Cassidy will be the single major conservative challenging Mary Landrieu."
Landrieu, a moderate Democrat who won 52 percent of the vote in 2008, has been considered vulnerable each time she's been up for re-election because Louisiana is a red state in national elections. Last year, Republican Mitt Romney defeated Obama in Louisiana by 17 percentage points.
"Mary Landrieu needs to be replaced in 2014. Her record is abysmal. She's turned her back on Louisiana values and become a full-fledged devotee of the Obama agenda," said Fleming, a doctor and businessman from Minden.
Landrieu hasn't commented on Cassidy's entrance into the race. Landrieu has said that her record is very different than the president's and that people should judge her on her own performance.
Other Republicans who have said they have no intention to run for Senate after being previously mentioned as possible candidates include Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette.
Yet to announce his decision is Jeff Landry, a former congressman from New Iberia who lost his seat when the state's congressional delegation shrank after the most recent U.S. census.