Louisiana GOP, Rep. Jindal launch pre-emptive strikes against Breaux

While former Sen. John Breaux is deciding whether to run for Louisiana governor, state Republicans and his potential opponent have already begun the fight.

Speculation is mounting that Breaux (D-La.) might enter the race in the wake of Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s (D) surprise announcement this week that she won’t seek reelection. But state Republicans, and to a lesser extent Republican candidate Rep. Bobby Jindal, are already firing shots across Breaux’s bow.

State observers say this strategy is three-pronged: Give Breaux second thoughts about getting in, let him know the campaign would be bloody and start the public debate before he has gotten into the race and can defend himself.

The state’s Republican Party, Jindal and some newspaper editorial writers have begun a heavy push to raise questions about Breaux’s eligibility to run for the position, noting that he has been living and voting in Maryland.

Louisiana Republicans have already issued an ad entitled “Above the Law,” running in media markets across the state, stating that Breaux “gave up” his Louisiana citizenship. The ad also shows pictures of the former senator’s $3 million home in Maryland, declaring it was “paid for by the millions Breaux earned selling his influences as a lobbyist.”

“That’s why our [state] Constitution says Breaux can’t run for governor,” the ad says. “Breaux may be wealthy and powerful, but he’s not above the law.”

Jindal’s communications director, Melissa Sellers, told The Hill that Jindal is not concerned who will run against him, as “he’s in to win.” But Sellers also attempted to stoke the fires surrounding questions of Breaux’s eligibility.

“John Breaux, should he choose to come here and should he be eligible to run; or Hillary Clinton, should she choose to renounce her New York residency and attempt to run for Louisiana governor — it does not matter who’s in,” Sellers said, adding, “there are some obvious questions about [Breaux’s] eligibility.”

Breaux and Jindal have had a cordial, if not warm, relationship in the past.  In 1998, while serving as chairman of the Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, Breaux appointed Jindal to serve as the commission’s executive director.
Breaux, for his part, has only issued a statement through his firm, Patton Boggs, saying that he is “seriously evaluating what is best for Louisiana” and that he expects to announce a decision soon.

John Baker Jr., a law professor at Louisiana State University and a Jindal supporter, recently penned an editorial in which he described how the law could prevent Breaux from running.

“Following Katrina, John Breaux registered to vote in Maryland,” Baker wrote. “He thereby ceased being a ‘citizen’ of Louisiana. Accordingly, he was dropped from the voting rolls in Acadia Parish.

“Unless the state judiciary completely disregards the Louisiana Constitution, relevant statutes and case-law, he has disqualified himself from running for governor because he has not ‘been a citizen of’ this state for at least the five preceding years.”

Baker said he wrote the editorial strictly out of a legal interest, of his own accord and independent of the Jindal campaign. He also noted that in his practice, he has represented more Democrats than Republicans.

“I’m sure [Jindal’s campaign is] happy and thrilled that I did it,” Baker acknowledged.

Baker said the case against Breaux is fairly cut-and-dry “except for the fact that this is Louisiana,” and thus subject to “the luck of the draw” as to whether a friendly judge might let the former senator run.

“Southerners … have this notion that you’re either one of us or you’re not one of us,” he said. “People kind of have a notion that John Breaux is one of us.”

Tom Langston, a political professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, said he questions the effectiveness of the early attacks on Breaux, because most voters are not yet paying attention.

“Eligibility is just a convenient stick that they can pick up and beat him with,” Langston said, adding that he doesn’t take any potential legal challenges “very seriously.”

But some in the state are not just hanging their preemptive strikes on the question of Breaux’s eligibility.

Breaux’s work as a lobbyist for Patton Boggs is another area providing fodder for his would-be opponents. Anonymous e-mails questioning the relationship between contributors to Breaux’s campaigns and those giving his son lobbying business are circulating in Louisiana.

Langston said these early attacks might not get the traction that Republicans want. He added that many Republicans in the state are nervous that Jindal might prove to be a “two-time loser” for the governor’s mansion should he face Breaux.
Those Republicans, he said, think Jindal might have a better chance of success if he challenges Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in 2008.

Sellers said that is not going to happen.

“He’s running for governor. Period,” she said.

Some Democrats, however, have taken note of early polls showing Jindal with a significant lead over Breaux.
Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), a longtime friend and supporter of Breaux’s, recently told a Louisiana newspaper that Democrats would need “a centrist, white candidate to beat Jindal.”

A spokeswoman in Melancon’s office said the congressman was merely relaying polling data he had seen to that effect.
Langston said the only credible polls to date are those showing Blanco losing to Jindal — polls, he said, that Blanco was clearly reading before deciding to not to run.

Blanco’s lieutenant governor, Mitch Landrieu (D), who lost the New Orleans mayoral race to Ray Nagin (D) last year, said recently he would consider entering the race if Breaux did not, according to reports from the state.