BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Inside a packed barroom in the heart of Cajun Country, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) united Louisiana Republicans behind Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) ahead of the coming Dec. 6 runoff.
“When I was coming to Louisiana, I heard Jeff Landry [a former congressman who speaks with a thick Cajun accent] was going to be the emcee and I was like: What language does he speak? Is that New Iberian? I’m going to need a translator,” Paul joked as he took the stage inside Huey’s Bar. “But I’m excited to be here today and I’m excited to endorse your next senator, Bill Cassidy.”
As Republicans across the country last Tuesday celebrated electoral victory—taking over the U.S. Senate, increasing the U.S. House GOP majority, and making historic gains in governor’s mansions and statehouses nationwide—Republicans here braced for the next four weeks.
Louisiana’s jungle primary system makes it such that if any candidate in a federal race doesn’t get 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters head to a runoff a month later. Such was the case for the U.S. Senate race here, where Landrieu finished with just over 42 percent and Cassidy received just under 41 percent. Retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, a Tea Party-backed Republican, got just under 14 percent of the remaining vote—earning more than 202,000 votes.
All that wasn’t for a lack of a bitter election, where Maness constantly found himself battling negativity from Washington, D.C. establishment Republicans—or Cassidy found himself fighting off accusations of being a big government Republican.
“This is a critical seat for Republican hopes to win back the Senate, and it’s stunning that the Senate Conservatives Fund is working to keep it in Harry Reid’s hands,” NRSC consultant Brian Walsh said in late 2013 in a comment to the liberal MSNBC. “[Landrieu] is sitting on a sizeable warchest. This is not Texas’ last cycle, and it’s not Mississippi this cycle. This is a very critical seat, and it’s remarkable that this is where they’re looking to make their fight.”
The Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) backed Maness, as did former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and other grassroots conservative movement luminaries. Cassidy had support from the state party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, among other GOP establishment-aligned organizations.
As much as Washington operatives like the NRSC’s Walsh or some conservative groups attempted to frame it as yet another battle between the GOP establishment and the conservative grassroots in the likes of what happened in Mississippi when Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) prevailed over state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the GOP primary, the race in Louisiana wasn’t such. Maness and Cassidy definitely have their differences, but the event here on Monday made it absolutely clear that Cassidy is no Washington establishment Republican—and Maness contributed much more to the race than Washington Republicans who criticized him frequently will ever give him credit for.
Paul captured the unique nature of the race best in his remarks aimed at unifying the GOP around Cassidy heading into the runoff.
“I want to be honest with you, I had a tough decision,” Paul said. “I met both candidates—I met Rob Maness and I met Bill Cassidy early on. I wanted to get involved and I liked them both, so I had a tough decision and I ended up not being able to make a decision.”
“I met Rob Maness, and I heard about his military record and how he was from a military family and travelled all around. I thought of my wife. Her dad was an enlisted man and travelled all around the country and all over the world,” he continued. “Think of how our military soldiers pick up and move every six months or every year they’re going somewhere else all to defend our country. It moves me to think about those who serve our country. I had a soft spot for that and then I read his platform and Col. Maness said ‘you know what, my kids are fighting for the country, I fought for the country but we never go to war unless Congress votes on it.’”
“Amen!” a man in the crowd shouted, before Paul walked through how he liked Cassidy as well.
“I met Bill Cassidy and I liked him also,” Paul said. “He’s a doctor. He’s also I believe believes strongly personally that we are our brother’s keeper, that we have a responsibility to our fellow man. I read about him starting a community center in Baton Rouge to take care of the poor. I read about him starting a vaccine program that vaccinated 36,000 kids. I read about how after Katrina how he opened a medical clinic in an abandoned K-Mart.”
“You all remember what it was like. I’m sure many people in the room helped people,” Paul said. “Even all the way up in North Carolina, I have a friend from medical school who had a family from New Orleans for a year in their house. I think the underreported story, though, of healthcare or Katrina or what have you—the underreported story of our country is how gracious and humanitarian we are and how noble the things are that we do.”
When Maness took the stage, he gave one of the best speeches he’s ever given in support of Cassidy—something Cassidy even recognized later.
“It’s a great day to be an American, isn’t it?” Maness said as he took the stage. “Sen. Paul, welcome to Louisiana. You’re in Tiger country! Tiger country! A sportsman’s paradise, the Pelican state. You’re in the home of swamp people and Duck Commander, the birthplace of jazz—the best music ever invented. We’re annually ranked the most pro-life state in America. We cling to our guns and religion. We love our crawfish, our gators, our music and we’ll find any reason for a festival or a parade—there’s 437 of them. And in 26 days, ladies and gentlemen, Mary Landrieu is going to have a lot more free time to enjoy every bit of it. Let me be clear here and now. Congressman Bill Cassidy has my full support and more importantly my vote on Dec. 6. You know, after 85,000 miles we got the truck an oil change and the tune-up it needed—and we can hit the road whenever you need me to. Dr. Cassidy, these next 26 days we’re going to make sure we finally bring Mary Landrieu home, where she belongs.”
Maness proceeded to deliver a 10-minute long endorsement of Cassidy, firing up the crowd every step of the way.
“Conservatives across our country and here in Louisiana are rallying behind Bill Cassidy,” Maness said. “Louisianans like Woody Jenkins and Tony Perkins, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. I’m pleased to say that Governor Palin has let me know she will join us this coming Saturday here in Louisiana to help elect Bill Cassidy. But this is a unifying rally and Senator Paul your leadership to unify the GOP in 2014 has made us stronger as a party and helped us win last week – thank you for being here today.”
Maness, whose wife joined Cassidy and his wife for dinner this weekend at which they discussed the race and Maness’s endorsement of Cassidy, said that Cassidy has “assured me he is going to work hard to earn your votes.”
“Please listen to him—I encourage you to meet with him, listen to him, study the stark policy differences between Bill Cassidy and Sen. Mary Landrieu as I have and in the end I am pretty confident that he is a man of faith who loves our country, loves Louisiana, loves his family and loves these United States,” Maness said. “Anything other than a vote for Dr. Bill Cassidy is a victory for Barack Obama and that, my friends, is not an option—or acceptable.”
Maness lit into Landrieu next—ripping her for each of her weakest political points that she’s been hit on the campaign trail with.
“Now some of you may have heard, I’m a little bit new to politics—I think these guys all said it at one time,” Maness said. “There’s some things political guys do that are just plain odd to the rest of us. And now don’t forget I’m just a warmup act, and Louisiana politics is hot and spicy and Congressman Cassidy and Sen. Paul are coming up next and they’re really going to heat it up in here. Odd. Take for example Sen. Landrieu’s newest ad in which twists and turns Dr. Cassidy’s words in order to portray him, as her team spins it as, ‘odd.’ Well, Senator, that dog ain’t gonna hunt here in Louisiana.”
Maness was referencing a new ad that Landrieu’s campaign dropped that argues Cassidy is “odd”—something Cassidy critics have used to attack him as somehow not well-spoken. But Maness flipped the attack right back on Landrieu.
“You see, what we truly find odd with you is you fight harder for Washington, D.C., than you do for Washington parish,” Maness said. “What we find odd with you is you spend our tax dollars on private jets to get from New Orleans to Lake Charles for campaign fundraisers. What we find odd with you Sen. Landrieu is the fact you claim to still live on your mom and dad’s couch for goodness sakes. And what we really find odd is that anyone would vote with Barack Obama 9 percent of the time let alone 97 percent of the time. But that’s not the oddest. What we find oddest Sen. Landrieu is that you’re still our senator and we’re going to fix that on Dec. 6 by electing Dr. Bill Cassidy.”
Maness carried on with his booming voice for another five minutes calling on everyone to get out and vote for Cassidy on Dec. 6.
“Hey man, Maness just gave a great speech, let me just tell you that, so give it up for him,” Cassidy said to the 400 or so packed inside the bar as he took the stage after a glowing endorsement from Maness. “But when I served with Jeff [Landry] in the Congress, that’s like every day for Jeff. I remember somebody said ‘does he fear anybody’ and he said ‘the only people I fear are God and my wife.’”
After giving his thanks to Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), state Sen. Elbert Guillory, his wife, and more who were at his side, Cassidy praised Maness’s candidacy.
“I have three special thanks, first for Col. Maness,” Cassidy said to cheers from both his and Maness’s supporters in the bar. “For the last 18 months, Rob and I have criss-crossed the state speaking about how we wish to repeal and replace Obamacare, rein in those EPA and government regulations, and create jobs for people in Louisiana—and pointing however much she may protest otherwise, Sen. Mary Landrieu votes with Barack Obama…”
The audience jumped in to complete his sentence: “97 percent of the time.”
“I am so honored to have his support,” Cassidy said. “When you have been for 18 months so to speak in a campaign mode, there is a kinship that builds just because he knows and I know what our families have gone through. Once more join me in thanking a great American and true conservative, Col. Rob Maness.”
The crowd went wild.
“Go, Rob, go! Go, Rob, go!” they shouted as Cassidy pulled Maness back up to his side and put his arm around him.
“Next, Rand Paul, let me thank him next,” Cassidy continued a moment later, the rowdy crowd still cheering. “[He’s] the man who made it okay for Republicans to wear jeans on stage. Republicans have traditionally been the party of ideas and there is this hurricane of new ideas sweeping in about liberty, about freedom, about different ways to govern, that Sen. Rand Paul brings to our party, to our nation, and to us. Thank you, Sen. Rand Paul.”
Cassidy’s final thanks was to the voters of Louisiana.
“I have one more thanks to give—I thank you,” Cassidy said. “Because, really, this is not about my wife and me. This is not about those here on the stage. This is about us, our state, our country. I will tell you when individuals come by and say they are ‘With Mary’ [one of Landrieu’s campaign slogans] I say ‘I am with you.’ She represents Barack Obama. I represent you. Ultimately, this is not about me. This is about us, our state and our country.”
As Cassidy introduced Paul to speak, he even made a joke about dealing with Washington, D.C. being akin to gastroenterology—the field of medicine focused on dealing with the human digestive system. “Rand’s a fellow doctor but I have better jokes than he does,” Cassidy said. “I’m a gastroenterologist. As I say, gastroenterology prepared me very well for Washington, D.C.”