Rep. John Fleming, R-La., will not run for the Senate in 2014, he said in a statement today, citing fellow Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy's official entry into the race Wednesday and the necessity of party unity ahead of what is expected to be a tough battle against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.
"For me to enter the race now would risk a contest between two experienced Republican Congressmen, potentially offering Senator Landrieu a path back to Washington. I can't let that happen," Fleming said in the statement. "My friend, Bill Cassidy, has long prepared and now stepped forward to challenge Mary, and he offers Louisiana's voters a Republican alternative necessary in 2014 to replace a big-government Washington liberal."
Fleming's decision not to run will come as a surprise to many Republican strategists in the state who saw him organizing for a potential battle against both Cassidy and Landrieu. Fleming had ramped up his attacks on Landrieu in recent weeks, sometimes sending out multiple press releases in a single day criticizing her record. Just Wednesday Republican strategist Roy Fletcher told Hotline On Call that there was "no question" that Fleming would get in the race.
But Fleming didn't have the money that Cassidy does, ending 2012 with less than $500,000 in the bank. Cassidy, meanwhile, had more than $2 million -- and told On Call earlier this week that he raised another $500,000 in the first three months of the year.
Cassidy also had a geographic advantage over Fleming. His 6th District has a large Republican population and is centered in Baton Rouge, a major media market. Fletcher said Wednesday that in a Cassidy-Fleming matchup, he'd have to give the edge to Cassidy. "I think that he is from the part of the state, frankly, that it's just a matter of numbers. There's more people down here than there are up there," Fletcher said, though he added that the race would be close. Louisiana does not have party primaries, so Cassidy, Fleming and Landrieu would have appeared on the same November ballot had Fleming decided to run.
Fleming's decision to pass on the race does not mean Cassidy will be the only Republican candidate running against Landrieu. Former Rep. Jeff Landry told On Call that he is also looking at running for the Senate, and former Gov. Buddy Roemer's son, Chas Roemer, who is the president of a state school board, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate. Either, said Fletcher, could enter the contest as an "outsider" and suck some of the oxygen away from Cassidy and Landrieu.
If one candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 4, 2014, the top two candidates will proceed to a runoff on December 6.