It’s not uncommon for an outgoing politician to attempt to influence the selection of his successor, but in the case of Congressman Charlie Melancon, it appears unlikely that he’ll get directly involved in the race to replace him. Melancon, D-Napoleonville, is relinquishing the 3rd Congressional District this year to run for the U.S. Senate. He has represented the district, which includes Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, since 2004 and was sent to the Hill by voters in three consecutive elections. In 2008, he was re-elected without opposition.
On Melancon’s heels are four contenders, of which only one is a Democrat: Houma attorney Ravi Sangisetty. Melancon has not formally endorsed Sangisetty, and the congressman’s campaign manager, Bradley Beychok, deferred comment to the Louisiana Democratic Party. Party spokesman Kevin Franck says Sangisetty has the support of Democratic regulars and the party, and Melancon has an interest in the race as a lifelong resident of the district. “I’m sure Congressman Melancon will be just as involved in the 3rd District race as any other active and informed voter,” Franck says.
For his part, Sangisetty is a pro-life and pro-gun Democrat like Melancon and has been a booster for the congressman in the past. When Melancon passed an amendment on the House floor two weeks ago to ease up on the federal drilling moratorium and secure $1.2 billion from BP’s oil spill penalties for coastal restoration, Sangisetty quickly fired off a press release. “I thank Rep. Melancon for fighting for our economic future and our way of life,” Sangisetty said. “We need to hold BP 100 percent accountable for the disaster they’ve created, and we need to get our men and women back to work.”
Of course, Melancon could always back one the Republicans in the matchup: former House Speaker Hunt Downer of Houma, attorney Jeff Landry of New Iberia or oilfield manager Kristian Magar of New Iberia. But that isn’t likely to happen, either, according to Pearson Cross, a political science professor at UL Lafayette, especially since the Republicans are largely running on promises of more conservative leadership than what’s being offered in the district today. “Right now Charlie Melancon would love to pick up some moderate Republican support, but he can’t do that without alienating Democrats,” Cross says. “There’s always risk, no matter which way he would go. If he endorsed the Democrat, he would run the danger of looking partisan.”
Joshua Stockley, previously the president of the Louisiana Political Science Association and now a political science professor at UL Monroe, says Melancon has “little to gain” by jumping into the fray. “Charlie Melancon doesn’t need to fight any more battles than he already has,” he adds. “The congressman can’t afford to alienate anyone right now.”
Along with a handful of no-party contenders and third party candidates, Melancon is expected to face off in the fall general election against the winner of the GOP primary, considered to be a showdown between incumbent U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Metairie and former state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor of Monroe.