Third-place La.-3 finisher vows to stay out of runoff

The two surviving candidates in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District have reached out to supporters of Republican state Sen. Craig Romero, who finished in a close third place, after a bitter general-election fight that was characterized by acrimony and character attacks.

Romero received 23 percent of the vote last Tuesday, as compared to the 32 percent received by Republican Billy Tauzin III and the 24 percent for Democrat Charlie Melancon, who will now face each other in a Dec. 4 runoff.
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State Sen. Craig Romero (R-La.)

As such, Romero’s backers could be the difference in the race, but it remains unclear which candidate they will support after the hostile three-way battle that saw Romero’s character dragged through the mud, especially in the final weekend before the election.

Romero, who is still angry about a direct-mail attack by the Tauzin campaign during the final weekend, said he would not endorse either candidate.

“It’s unreligious what they did,” Romero told The Hill yesterday. “I’m not getting involved in this race.”

The Louisiana Republican Party rankled a number of Romero supporters in August when the group endorsed Tauzin, a BellSouth lobbyist and the son of retiring Rep. Billy Tauzin Jr. (R), whose seat the candidates are fighting to fill.

At the time, a number of Louisiana Republicans, including each Republican member of the state Senate, protested the endorsement because it undermined Romero’s campaign. One member of the State Central Committee, which announced the endorsement, resigned her leadership post.

Then, in the last two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, Tauzin’s and Melancon’s campaigns blasted Romero’s character in a series of radio and television spots and the direct-mail piece that was sent out to district voters during the last weekend of the campaign.

The piece read: “State Senator Romero has a dirty little secret. He says he is a Louisiana conservative but votes like a Massachusetts liberal.” It goes on to say he has supported $160 million in higher taxes, “flip-flopped on gay marriage,” “twice voted to recognize same-sex partnerships” and once voted to “repeal a ban on sodomy.”

“If that’s what it takes to get to Washington, I don’t know if I belong there,” Romero said. He said his opponents had taken elements of his voting record out of context.

Romero discovered the mailing when he was leaving church with his family the Sunday before Election Day and saw two young women wearing “Tauzin for Congress” shirts putting fliers on all the cars in the parking lot. He said that his wife’s car was covered with “about 20 of them” and that he was incensed after reading one of them.

Because the mail piece was sent out the weekend before the election, Romero’s campaign did not have enough time to respond, said Brent Littlefield, Romero’s campaign spokesman.

Of the mailing, Littlefield said, “I didn’t expect them to go that far and lie about his record and say he voted for sodomy. It’s unfortunate his record was distorted.”

Now, both campaigns are trying to reach out to the state senator and his supporters.

Romero represents the western portion of the district, while both Melancon and Tauzin come from the eastern side — another reason Romero’s backers will play a crucial role in the runoff.

Romero said he had already been contacted by an intermediary for the Tauzin campaign who said the direct-mail attacks were a response to Romero’s constant criticism of Tauzin’s age — he is 30 years old. Romero said that he rejected the Tauzin appeal and added that he would not endorse Melancon either.

Despite that, the Democrat is still reaching out to Romero’s supporters.

“I’m personally calling the Romero people,” Melancon, a former state representative who headed the American Sugar Cane League, told The Hill on Monday. “We are going to try to reach out to everyone in order to win this election.”

One outside Republican observer said the 11th-hour attacks should benefit the Democrat.

“A number of Republicans are going to support Melancon,” said John Treen, a New Orleans Republican whose brother, David, is a former governor and member of Congress. Treen believes the state Republican Party’s endorsement of the younger Tauzin was unnecessary and only upset fellow Republicans.

Treen, who is friendly with both Tauzins and is pulling for “Little Billy” in the runoff, said the endorsement also gave some district voters the impression that the congressman was pulling political strings for his son.

That has been a constant criticism of the younger Tauzin, one that his campaign manager dismissed.

“We did not try to hide at all behind the Tauzin name,” said Matt Gresham. “It’s just something they think will resonate with voters.”

Gresham said his campaign would soon announce an endorsement from state Sen. Walter Boasso (R), an ardent Romero supporter, and expects more such endorsements to come in the next week.

At least one Romero supporter said it was too early to say which way she would vote.

“Many of us are still digesting what has happened,” said Collette Vizier, the Republican State Central Committee member who resigned her leadership post after the state party’s endorsement of Tauzin.

Her 18-year-old son, though, has already made up his mind and asked Vizier whether or not he could put a Melancon sign in their yard. She said yes, telling The Hill, “I’m not going to stop his freedom of speech.

Louisiana’s 7th District will also see a runoff, between Republican Charles Boustany and Democrat Willie Mount.

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