Republicans target lone Democrat in Louisiana

Republicans are looking to Louisiana, a state that has bucked national trends to turn a deeper shade of red in the last year, to counter the GOP’s disastrous performance in the last two election cycles.  

In particular, Republicans are targeting Rep. Charlie Melancon, the lone Democrat left in Louisiana’s seven-member House delegation.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched a radio ad in the district during the Presidents Day recess and is seeking to paint Melancon as a big spender, in spite of his co-chairmanship of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition.

“Whether or not Louisiana continues to buck national trends, Charlie Melancon continues to show no willingness to buck his party,” said NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay. “Melancon is taking heat from voters in south Louisiana because he is siding with an Obama-Pelosi agenda that threatens the region’s job creators as much as their way of life.”

Louisiana has long been a difficult state to read politically, and recent trends are no different. While Democratic voter registration soared last year throughout the country, the Bayou State was one of just three states in which Republican voter registration grew. And it was the only one where GOP registration gained more than 1 percent while Democratic registration fell.

Melancon’s district has also become more Republican. In 2000, President George W. Bush carried it with 52 percent. Bush won it with 58 percent in 2004, and it gave GOP nominee Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Romney: Trump 'has distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character' MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE (Ariz.) 61 percent last year.

Democrats, however, say Melancon is less vulnerable than those numbers would suggest. They point to Republicans failing to recruit a challenger last year as an indication of how popular Melancon is. They also note that there was speculation that Melancon was being urged to run for the Senate next year against Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterSenate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views Collins votes against Trump judicial pick Progressive group targets Susan Collins over Trump judicial pick MORE (R), another sign he is well-liked at home.

“South Louisianans have shown strong support for Congressman Melancon and his commitment to working across the aisle to make healthcare more affordable, improve education and fight for comprehensive hurricane protection and recovery needs,” said Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Some local experts also think Melancon established himself with how well he handled the response to Hurricane Katrina. “He would be in pretty good shape,” Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University, said. “A lot of what’s going on in his district is Katrina and post-Katrina. He is and was seen visibly as a post-Katrina helper for Louisiana, and that’s very important for him.”

Parent added that if Melancon had a challenger, “it might be a close race but he would still be a slight favorite.”

After failing to field a candidate last year, Republicans are still looking for the right fit for the district. Melancon faced a weak candidate in 2006 and eked out a win in 2004 against Republican Billy Tauzin III, the son of the former congressman from the district.

The NRCC has met with state Rep. Nickie Monica about the race. Bill Nungresser, the son of a former state party chairman; Bill Hubbard, the St. John Parish president; and Charlotte Randolph, Lafourche Parish president, have also been mentioned as possible candidates.

Melancon declined to be interviewed for this story. His spokeswoman, Robin Winchell, said the lawmaker has a “full plate” and isn’t discussing politics now. Melancon, she said, is “focusing his attention on his legislative agenda and fighting for Louisiana’s interests in Congress.”

Despite the state’s rightward trend, Democrats are looking to go on the offensive in the Bayou State. First, they plan to take on first-term Republican Rep. Joseph Cao, who defeated scandal-ridden Rep. William Jefferson (D) in Louisiana’s 2nd district last year. That southeast Louisiana district remains heavily Democratic and gave President Obama 75 percent of its vote last year.

Democrats may also target Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyMarch tariff increase would cost 934K jobs, advocacy group says Bottom Line On The Money: US adds 155k jobs in November | Unemployment holds at 3.7 percent | Wage growth strengthening | Trump signs stopgap spending bill delaying shutdown MORE Jr. (R). State Sen. Eric LaFleur has been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for that seat. And local attorney Joe Greenwald has been floated as a possible challenger to Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles Overnight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments MORE in the 4th district.

The DCCC has already targeted Fleming, Cao and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) with a radio ad and has run robo-calls in Fleming’s district as well.

Local observers, however, say that Louisiana has a history of trending in the opposite direction of the rest of the country and that there is little indication the current Republican gains will subside anytime soon.

In the 1990s, when Republicans took back majorities in the House and Senate, for example, Louisiana had two Democratic senators in John Breaux and Bennett Johnston Jr. Democrat Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuDems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world Former New Orleans mayor: It's not my 'intention' to run for president MORE then went on to take Johnston’s seat in 1996. The Bayou State also backed Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Another VPOTUS tries for POTUS: What does history tell us? Barr says he's working to protect presidency, not Trump MORE in both the 1992 and 1996 presidential races.

 After that decade, Louisiana has gone for the Republican presidential nominee by increasing margins. McCain won the state with 59 percent last year.

And as Democrats made gains in the Senate, leading to their retaking the majority in 2006, Louisiana elected David Vitter, a conservative Republican, in 2004.

Likewise, while 28 states now have Democratic governors, Louisiana elected Republican Bobby Jindal in 2007.

Parent, the LSU political scientist, said Louisiana’s large population of white Catholics explains the shifts.

“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Louisiana was trending Democratic more than other states because Catholics in Louisiana were not as consumed by cultural conservatism as Southern Baptists,” Parent said. “Things changed in the 1990s when the Catholic Church started to move aggressively on the abortion issue and started to become a solid Republican bloc.”

As a result, the Republican hold on the Bayou State is probably a more accurate reflection of the state and may be there to stay, said John Maginnis, the editor of the nonpartisan LaPolitics newsletter.

“People’s politics haven’t changed; they are very conservative here,” he said. “Democrats just had a default advantage because the GOP wasn’t very strong. This trend is more of a natural catch-up reflecting the Republican strength in the South.”