Looks can be deceiving, especially this early in the fundraising process. Candidates for the 3rd Congressional District, which includes portions of Acadiana, have collectively raised about $395,000, according to the latest federal campaign finance reports. That's just the beginning. Top contenders eventually will spend much more than that, judging by the last open contest in that district, which was in 2004. That's when six candidates raised a record-setting $5 million to compete for the south Louisiana seat, previously held for more than two decades by Billy Tauzin, a Republican from Lafourche Parish who started his public career as a Democrat. Incumbent Congressman Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, is vacating the seat after holding it for three terms. He will challenge U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, for re-election in the fall.
Some names from the 2004 race already are lining up to replace Melancon, starting with state Rep. Damon Baldone, D-Houma. While Baldone says he's likely to join the fray, he has not yet filed a campaign finance report for the current election cycle. In '04, he raised more than $257,000, of which $145,000 was self-financed. New Iberia attorney Jeff Landry, a Republican, managed the 2004 campaign of former state Sen. Craig Romero, who opposed Melancon again in 2006. Although Landry's fourth quarter 2009 report doesn't show a lot of spending, he has retained the services of Washington, D.C., consultant Brent Littlefield, a talking head on MSNBC who likewise worked on Romero's campaigns and previously for Gov. Bobby Jindal. Landry raised more money during the final quarter of 2009 than any other candidate — $96,000 — and he did it in just three weeks. Most notably, he locked down $1,000 from shipyard magnet Boysie Bollinger of Lockport and $2,400 from construction tycoon Lane Grigsby of Baton Rouge, two names that generate confidence among the state's top GOP donors. State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, invested $2,400 in Landry, but energy-related companies, not elected officials, seem to be Landry's bread and butter. For example, employees of the Lafayette-based Moreno Group poured $14,400 into his campaign last month alone. Landry's campaign now has $115,000 in the bank, including $21,000 of the candidate's personal money.
Democrat Ravi Sangisetty of Houma, who raised $67,000 last quarter, has even more cash on hand than Landry, even though Sangisetty is a political novice. His report shows he has about $224,000 on hand, of which $100,000 is a personal loan. Sangisetty, an attorney, is also the only candidate to raise money (more than $84,000) during the third quarter of 2009. His effort could mirror the south Louisiana Democratic template. Trial lawyers dot his donor list, including Michael X. St. Martin of Houma, who gave $2,400, and Donald T. Carmouche of Gonzales, who forked over $1,000. Moreover, Sangisetty has hired as consultants Lynncal Bering and C. David Wilburn, who cut their teeth as operatives with the state Democratic Party. Sangisetty's also building contacts within the party, as evidenced by a $500 donation to the Legislative Black Caucus Fund.
Oil field manager Kristian Magar, another Republican from New Iberia, kept pace with his opponents by self-financing about $20,000; he now has roughly $21,000 in the bank to launch his campaign. He had no local donations.
The biggest surprise may be the figures reported by state Rep. Nickie Monica, R-LaPlace. Even before Melancon announced he would vacate his seat to take on Vitter, Monica was on the stump. A year ago, he was the most visible potential candidate and was reportedly being courted by national Republicans. But, according to his campaign finance account, Monica has raised only $150 — all of it from his own pocket.
Louisiana National Guard Maj. Gen. Hunt Downer, a Republican from Houma and former speaker of the state House, says he is "seriously considering" the race. State Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle of Breaux Bridge, a Democrat expected to switch to the GOP, is another potential late entry. — Jeremy Alford