- Associated Press - Sunday, July 10, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Attorney General Jeff Landry is strengthening his position as the main standard-bearer for Republican Party politics in Louisiana, taking over an effort to elect more GOP conservatives to state legislative offices.

The former congressman, in office as attorney general since January, will take over as the figurehead of the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority, a decade-old organization started by U.S. Sen. David Vitter that helped elect many of the state’s GOP lawmakers.

After years of inactivity since the 2011 elections, the political action committee has filed a new statement of organization with the Louisiana’s ethics office. Landry said in an interview that many of the PAC’s original founders - big-money Republican donors and business leaders - asked him to become involved now that Vitter is leaving office, not running for re-election to the U.S. Senate after losing the governor’s race this fall.

“They thought it was imperative that we put the committee back together, so the organization can be involved in the legislative sessions leading up to the 2019 election,” Landry said. “Most of the original board members or organizers of LCRM were interested in finding someone to take that lead.”

Vitter’s former chief of staff and gubernatorial campaign manager, Kyle Ruckert, will manage the organization’s efforts.

Vitter helped form the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority in 2005, bringing a more organized, Washington-style campaign strategy to state legislative races, complete with detailed polling and opposition research. Vitter’s work behind the scenes through the PAC was instrumental in helping Republicans make historic gains in the 2007 elections, when Louisiana’s legislative term-limits kicked in for the first time and wiped out many long-time lawmakers.

The organization ran separately from any fundraising done by the state Republican Party, which was slower to develop a statewide approach to legislative elections and which was closely tied to former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had a frosty relationship with Vitter.

With Jindal out of office and gone from state politics and Vitter soon to exit, Landry has been building his public profile and his ties with GOP activists and heavyweights. Only seven months in office, the Republican attorney general has gotten into high-profile disputes with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and formed close alliances with a group of conservative House GOP lawmakers, positioning himself in many ways as the face of Republican politics in Louisiana.

Speculation has swirled that Landry could be a candidate for governor, running against Edwards in 2019. Getting more closely involved with helping to elect new Republican state lawmakers can help Landry coalesce power and build relationships, whether he remains as attorney general or seeks Louisiana’s top job.

The opportunity to make a significant mark on the House and Senate terms that begin in 2020 is large, with term limits ousting 38 of the 105 House members (36 percent) and 16 of the 39 state senators (41 percent).

Landry said the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority raised nearly $4 million in previous efforts. Among those involved with the LCRM are several regular big-ticket GOP donors, including shipbuilder Donald “Boysie” Bollinger of Lockport and real estate developer Joseph Canizaro of New Orleans.

Vitter’s focus on expanding the GOP in Louisiana helped Republicans gain majorities in the state House and Senate in 2010 and 2011, with party switches and special elections building on the wins of the 2007 elections and the advantages gained by term limits. The organization recruited legislative candidates and raised money to help support their campaigns.

The House currently has 59 Republicans, 42 Democrats and 2 unaffiliated with a party. Of Senate members, 25 are Republicans and 14 are Democrats. Landry’s focus will be to hold onto the GOP seats, try to gain more for Republicans - and possibly to replace incumbents in his own party.

The PAC may seek to help Republican candidates challenging GOP incumbents not deemed to be conservative enough. Ruckert said that would be decided on a “case by case basis.”

“I don’t have a problem to challenge people who are labeled Republicans in the Louisiana Legislature, when they fail to heed those Republican principles,” Landry said.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow her at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte


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