- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2014

A conservative split in Louisiana’s Senate race has produced a three-way contest that could send it into an election runoff, raising questions about whether the tea party insurgency will cost Republicans a winnable seat.

The Madison Project, which supports tea party challengers, announced radio ads Monday attacking Rep. Bill Cassidy, the most prominent Republican candidate, who has the backing of the establishment. Madison Project officials are trying to boost retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness by questioning Mr. Cassidy’s commitment to conservative stances on tax cuts and illegal immigration.

Both men are on the ballot in November along with Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat who is struggling to win a fourth term. If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the race goes to a two-person runoff Dec. 6.

“I don’t think there is really much a of a difference between Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy — they are both Washington insiders,” said Drew Ryun of the Madison Project. “It is clear from his record that Bill Cassidy would be another cookie-cutter GOP senator who will follow [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell, and that is actually what we don’t want to see happen.”

The Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, which supports pro-life candidates, announced its backing of Mr. Cassidy on Monday, saying he is the best choice to stop Ms. Landrieu.

“She must be defeated. We know that congressman Bill Cassidy will defend the unborn and their mothers, and fight for the conscience rights of taxpayers,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the fund’s president.

The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Ms. Landrieu leading the three-way race with more than 38 percent of the vote, compared with about 36 percent for Mr. Cassidy and 9 percent for Mr. Maness.

In Kansas, a hard-fought Republican primary against a tea party-backed challenger left Sen. Pat Roberts wounded, and he is trying to recover before Nov. 4.

Analysts said they expect Louisiana Republicans, including Mr. Maness‘ supporters, will rally around Mr. Cassidy should he emerge in a runoff with Ms. Landrieu.

“They will be quick to come back in the runoff,” said Republican strategist Roy Fletcher. “Are they more conservative then Cassidy? Yeah, they are, but they are also much more conservative than President Obama.”

Indeed, polls show that Mr. Cassidy is leading Ms. Landrieu in a head-to-head matchup.

Brian J. Brox, a political science professor at Tulane University, said the “only evidence that they might stay at home is rooted in the rhetoric Maness has been using on the campaign trail.”

“He is critical of Cassidy [as well as Landrieu], and if that is persuasive enough some conservatives may not end up seeing much difference between Landrieu and Cassidy and choose to stay at home for the runoff,” Mr. Brox said in an email.

Mr. Maness has won endorsements from the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Eagle Forum, the Family Research Council’s Action PAC and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Mr. Cassidy, meanwhile, campaigned last week with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Sen. David Vitter, the state’s other incumbent. He also has been endorsed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a likely 2016 presidential contender, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

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