U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, right. (American Press Archives)
Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, August 24, 2013 6:56 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — In his bid to oust Louisiana's longtime Democratic senator, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy is still battling perceptions among members in his own party that he may not be the best candidate for the race.
Some conservatives question his credentials, while other Republicans wonder whether the soft-spoken policy wonk has the presence to stir up enough support to keep U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu from a fourth term.
Landrieu has been called vulnerable in each of her elections to Congress, but she's repeatedly managed to defeat her Republican opponents even as the state's voters trend increasingly red in national races.
That track record has the GOP looking for a rock-solid candidate who can fire up the Republican base while generating enthusiasm from moderates and independents that have backed Landrieu in past elections.
Leaders of some Washington-based Republican organizations haven't thrown open their arms and endorsed Cassidy, privately saying they've heard rumblings that other GOP candidates could surface before the 2014 election.
However, Louisiana's other senator, Republican David Vitter, has strongly endorsed Cassidy in the race, and the GOP members of the state's congressional delegation have hosted fundraisers to help his Senate bid.
"I think Bill is a very good, credible Republican opponent," Vitter said. "I think he has an excellent chance of winning. I don't see anyone on the horizon who could do better."
But at one of Vitter's recent town hall meetings, an audience member raised questions about whether Cassidy was the strongest contender for the Senate race.
Kirby Goidel, an LSU political science and mass communication professor, said Cassidy's issue is about personal charisma and style, rather than substance, noting that his voting record appears solidly conservative and should be attractive to Republicans.
"He's kind of personally a little awkward, so I don't think he has that ability to walk into a room and shake hands and have everyone say, 'That's our candidate. That's who we need,'" Goidel said. "I think that's partly where the discomfort is. He's not as compelling as some candidates when they are in a room and take over the room."
Adding another wrinkle to the election is Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel and tea party supporter from Madisonville who is running to the right of Cassidy but has attracted little fundraising support so far.
Maness says Cassidy doesn't differ enough from Landrieu. Maness has picked up support from the conservative Restore America's Voice political action committee and from Erick Erickson, conservative blogger and founder of RedState.com.
At a recent RedState gathering in New Orleans, Erickson talked of Cassidy as an "establishment candidate."
"I just think we need to do something different in Louisiana," Erickson said, touting Maness.
Cassidy said he doesn't focus on the questions raised about his abilities as a candidate and believes he offers better ideas and would serve the public better than Landrieu. He said voters will decide whether they agree.
"Maybe there is somebody who's got better ideas, better ability to connect with voters. Heck, OK, show me that person, get them to run. But in the meantime I can't pay attention to that. I just have to work as hard as I can, trying to address the needs of the people of all of Louisiana in ways that make sense both to Louisiana and to our country," he said.
Goidel said the congressman's quieter style could help give him broader appeal to voters beyond the Republican Party.
But he also said that if Cassidy can't squelch questions about his viability as a strong challenger, it could be tough to raise money and drum support from the GOP base.
Maness' criticism adds another problem, Goidel said.
Cassidy's fundraising has been strong, despite the chatter. He has $3.2 million in his campaign account, according to the most recent documents filed with the Federal Election Commission for the reporting quarter that ended June 30. Landrieu has $4.9 million.