By Alexandra Jaffe - 12/06/12 10:00 AM EST
The last outstanding House race of the 2012 cycle will come to a close on Saturday, when Louisiana Republican Reps. Charles Boustany Jr. and Jeff Landry meet in a runoff for the state’s 3rd district.
The race is characteristic of the GOP’s internal conflict: It pits an establishment candidate, Boustany, who is a close ally to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), against Landry, a Tea Party freshman who won his first race in 2010 with grassroots support.
He has establishment support and a coveted position on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which translated to financial donations from a number of his committee colleagues, including Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio) and Sam Johnson (R-Texas).
Landry has worked hard to frame himself as the true conservative in the race, running ads that characterize Boustany as too liberal and attacking him for his votes to raise the debt ceiling and for the financial bailout.
He has the backing of a number of his fellow freshmen, as well as Tea Party-affiliated FreedomWorks and the conservative National Taxpayers Union, along with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a strong supporter of the Tea Party.
Boustany put out a poll of likely voters in late November that gave him 56 percent to Landry’s 29, but one GOP operative familiar with the campaign said those numbers seemed exaggerated.
“It’s going to be a little bit closer than that,” the operative said.
With Boustany taking 45 percent support and Landry bringing in 30 percent on Nov. 6, neither candidate topped the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. The Democratic candidate, Ron Richard, came in third with 22 percent. In Saturday’s contest, whoever takes a majority wins.
Richards went on to endorse Boustany, stoking Landry’s attacks that Boustany is aligned with President Obama. But because Democrats can vote in the runoff, Richards’s endorsement might help Boustany in the final count.
The two lawmakers hold largely similar voting records and have thus had to argue that they differ in a matter of degrees on some issues. While both oppose Obama’s healthcare reform law, Boustany claims that he’ll be better able to prevent its implementation in his role as chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Oversight.
Landry has attacked Boustany for accepting congressional healthcare and retirement benefits, both of which he says he declined when he came into office.
And they’ve sparred over energy issues, with both claiming credit for the push to end the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf, a top issue in the southern-Louisiana district.
The Louisiana congressional delegation has stayed out of the race, and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal declined to endorse a candidate.
But Landry recently aired an ad touting the support of some of his congressional colleagues, including Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) and Tom Graves (R-Ga.). Boustany has highlighted local endorsements from mayors in the district and state lawmakers, including state House Speaker Chuck Kleckley.
Ultimately, however, Boustany’s biggest advantage might simply be the makeup of the district: He represents nearly 80 percent of the redrawn 3rd district. Louisiana lost one House seat in the redistricting process.
That means Landry’s had a tougher battle to fight in terms of boosting his name recognition and introducing himself to voters. But he’s counting on the timing of the election — a Saturday in December, which is likely to result in low turnout — and his ground operation to bring him a win.
“We are hoping that conservatives throughout southern Louisiana take a stand and show Washington that we put people over politics, and Louisiana over Washington,” said Millard Mule, Landry’s spokesman.
But Boustany’s campaign also said its main focus in the final days will be its turnout operation and that the congressman’s volunteer network would be crucial to a win.
“This campaign is in turnout mode right now. We have a good group of volunteers that have been with us for a long time,” said John Porter, Boustany’s campaign manager.