BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — The Tea Party rally held here Friday was only about 50 miles from the Mississippi border, but the primary campaign between Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness shares little with the bloody feud to the north.
Maness, a gruff military veteran with a folksy demeanor who could easily be mistaken for one of the Tea Party activists at the rally in his jeans, boots, and Air Force ball cap, took every opportunity to rip Sen. Mary Landrieu, the embattled incumbent Democrat who has staved off challenges in her last two election cycles but could face the fight of her political life this year.
Although he definitely took his shots at Cassidy, Maness’ plan to beat Cassidy clearly isn’t to run against the three-term congressman: It’s to run against Landrieu better than Cassidy can run against Landrieu.
“As Reagan said, bright bold colors to show the difference not pastels,” Maness said in an interview. “Well we need a bold contrast to Mary Landrieu because she has beat a moderate candidate twice in the last two elections.”
The tone of the rally here in Baton Rouge was not anti-Cassidy or pro-Maness, either. The Tea Party Express, which hosted the event, is likely to back Maness, aides said, but hadn’t yet.
And the event’s top non-candidate speaker–Sirius XM Patriot’s Mike Church–focused his line of attack almost entirely on Landrieu and chose not to slam Cassidy.
While he was introducing Maness for his speech, Church painted a picture of how Landrieu visited nearby Slidell, Louisiana in 2013 to forgive the Slidell Memorial Hospital’s millions of dollars in loans from taxpayers after Hurricane Katrina.
Church focused on Landrieu touting efforts she has spearheaded to cancel hundreds of millions of dollars of disaster assistance loans to businesses and local governments in the region given after Hurricane Katrina.
In February, New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Bruce Alpert detailed how Landrieu used her Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee on Homeland Security chairmanship to “cancel” $228 million in loans by that point, meaning those loan recipients–school districts, hospitals like Slidell’s, and city governments–don’t have to pay back the money they got from FEMA during Katrina.
In an interview after his speech, Maness said he became interested in running at the outset of the Tea Party movement, as he was settling into a plush consultant job after retiring from the Air Force and his wife was battling breast cancer. As he watched Landrieu stand with Obama on the president’s health care law and other major issues – Landrieu votes with Obama 98 percent of the time – he said, “I said we got to watch who we run against her.”
Louisiana’s jungle election style aids Maness–he doesn’t have to face off head-to-head with Cassidy’s or Landrieu’s millions and their respective political machines. Every candidate is on the ballot in November, and assuming nobody reaches 50 percent plus one vote, it’ll head to a runoff. At that point, the question becomes which Republican runs against Landrieu there.
Cassidy, similarly, is not running against the Tea Party movement–at least for now. Though the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has worked to help Cassidy, Cassidy at least appears to be trying to extend an olive branch to conservatives in Louisiana.
While Cassidy himself wasn’t at the Baton Rouge bus tour rally on Friday–aides say he was traveling–he did send an official campaign delegation with several senior staffers, including his communications director and grassroots coordinator, to work a campaign booth.
While handing Cassidy swag out to interested Tea Partiers, the campaign staffers worked to listen to grassroots activists and hear out their concerns. “Dr. Cassidy’s campaign is thrilled by the outpouring of grassroots support,” Cassidy communications director John Cummins said in an email to Breitbart News after the event. “Louisianans are tired of Mary Landrieu’s rubber-stamping of President Obama’s agenda and they’re responding to Dr. Cassidy’s message of conservative reform. The energy he experiences from voters as he travels the state is an exciting indicator that Louisiana is ready to change directions in Washington.”
In Mississippi, however, incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran declined to attend or send any campaign delegates to the two different Tea Party Express bus tour events on Thursday in Mississippi in Biloxi and Jackson. Cochran was invited, Tea Party Express Chairman Sal Russo said. However, in that case, the group had already endorsed his challenger, state senator Chris McDaniel, and the rallies were distinctly anti-Cochran.