Breaux's Retirement Could Mean GOP Pickup

Alone among the 13 states of the Confederacy, Louisiana has never elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate. But with three-term Democratic Sen. John Breaux announcing his retirement last week, Republican operatives in the state are confident they have a good chance to change that.

Louisiana will now be a major focus for Republicans in the 2004 Senate races. Breaux’s retirement, along with the retirement of other Democratic senators in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, gives the party an excellent opportunity to pick up as many as five seats in the South next year.

Even if the Republicans merely held even elsewhere, a net gain of five senators from the South would give the GOP control of 56 Senate seats, putting them at least within striking distance of breaking some of the filibusters that Senate Democrats have imposed on President Bush’s appellate court nominees.

Under Louisiana’s unique “jungle primary” system, all candidates regardless of party will compete on the same ballot next October. Should no one win a majority in that vote, there will be a November run-off. Already both major party establishments are lining up behind favored candidates. For the Democrats, it’s Rep. Chris John; and for the Republicans, it’s Rep. David Vitter.

Vitter is a 42-year-old Harvard alumnus and Rhodes Scholar. A former state legislator, he won election to the House in a 1999 special election, running to the right of former Republican Gov. Dave Treen. While Treen spoke in favor of the 2nd Amendment but said he did not oppose some restrictions on semiautomatic weapons, Vitter declared his opposition without reservation to all forms of gun control. Treen also opposed federal legislation banning affirmative action. “He said he felt it was a state and not a federal issue,” Vitter told Human Events at the time. “Well, as I read the Constitution, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments put this at the federal level and I certainly would vote to ban affirmative action.” Vitter won with 51% of the vote.

In the House, Vitter has been a vigorous conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 94%). He currently has more than $1.5 million in his campaign kitty.

John, like the retiring Breaux, is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate congressional Democrats, but he has cast a number of liberal votes. He has a lifetime ACU rating of only 51%, lowest of the entire Louisiana delegation and last year his ACU rating was just 46%. He also represents the same Arcadiana district that Breaux used to represent when he served in the House.