By Robert Mann
By now, it’s clear that many Louisiana conservatives don’t believe Rep. Bill Cassidy is one of them. In his race against Sen. Mary Landrieu, Cassidy is having a difficult time putting away his tea party challenger, Rob Maness.
That job didn’t get any easier on Friday when former Republican state Rep. Woody Jenkins endorsed Maness over Cassidy. Jenkins, you may recall, almost beat Landrieu for the U.S. Senate in 1996, coming within a few thousand votes of winning the race.
“Based on my personal knowledge of the candidates, their philosophies, and their voting records, Col. Maness is the outstanding choice,” Jenkins said in a statement. “He is a true conservative, a real leader, and an articulate spokesman for the free enterprise system, a strong national defense, controlling illegal immigration, the right to life, and adherence to the Constitution.”
The implication, of course, is that Cassidy isn’t a true conservative, nor a real leader, etc.
As I wrote in my new Times-Picayune | NOLA.com column, “Cassidy’s history of supporting Democrats might explain why he hasn’t yet locked down the GOP vote.”
Maness is consistently getting around about 10 points in the polls and that’s keeping Cassidy in the low-to-mid 30s.
As I noted, Maness and former state Rep. Tony Perkins have long questioned Cassidy’s conservatism:
Maness has long questioned Cassidy’s conservative bona fides. “Congressman Cassidy’s fondness for liberal Democrats – including Sen. Landrieu and Gov. Blanco – and his flip-flopping on issues are well-documented by the press and in the record of his campaign contributions,” a Maness spokesman told the website NolaDefender.com last year.
Among Maness’ top supporters is Tony Perkins, a former Baton Rouge state representative who runs the Family Research Council, an ultra-conservative policy organization in Washington, D.C. Perkins says he doubts Cassidy’s ability to defeat Landrieu, citing an “enthusiasm deficit” among Louisiana Republicans.
“There’s a reason for that,” Perkins told a Washington newspaper in September when asked why he’s not behind Cassidy. “It goes back to that enthusiasm deficit. He’s a moderate candidate who stays away from many issues, and he’s just not exciting conservatives.”
It’s not likely that Jenkins’ endorsement will have much impact on the race. Cassidy is still almost a cinch to be in a runoff with Landrieu.
But if any other prominent Republicans endorse Maness, Cassidy might limp into that runoff. Despite all that, he will remain in a good position to challenge Landrieu.
Still, it seems clear that questions about Cassidy’s conservative credentials will continue to dog his campaign and make his path to victory a bit more challenging than he would prefer.
At the very least, it’s clear he does not yet have a united Louisiana Republican Party behind him.