BATON ROUGE — The Republican Party of Louisiana is backing former Congressman Jeff Landry for the post of state’s attorney general, announcing Tuesday that it was snubbing GOP incumbent Buddy Caldwell.
Party leaders said it’s the first time the GOP has chosen to back a challenger to a statewide Republican incumbent since the 1991 governor’s race. But Caldwell has done little to tighten ties to the GOP leadership since he switched from the Democratic Party four years ago.
Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere announced the endorsement with Landry, a lawyer and businessman from New Iberia, at the party’s headquarters.
“Jeff is the Republican in the race. I urge, and the state party urges, all Republicans and all conservatives in Louisiana to cast their vote for Jeff Landry,” Villere said.
Pressed to explain why Caldwell wasn’t worthy of the party’s support for a third term and why Landry instead was favored, Villere provided few specifics. He said Landry had “better qualifications” and was “the most conservative” candidate.
Landry said he “can do a much better job in the attorney general’s office.” When asked to contrast himself from Caldwell, Landry said he’ll provide more specifics as the Oct. 24 election nears.
Caldwell issued a statement Tuesday saying the endorsement “doesn’t change anything.”
“The state party has never endorsed me before, so it might have been bad luck to get it this time,” he said.
He also took a dig at Landry: “It’s unnerving to me that the statewide Republican Party would even think about endorsing someone who has never tried a civil or criminal case in court. I’m not sure, really, what his qualifications are.”
With the endorsement, the state GOP can now coordinate with Landry’s campaign, spend money to support his candidacy and share its resources and staff to bolster his election effort.
Attorney general since 2008, Caldwell was a district attorney in northeast Louisiana for 29 years before his election statewide. He jumped to the GOP in 2011, as he was running for a second term in a state trending increasingly Republican. Caldwell described the party as more in line with his political beliefs.
Since then, he’s supported legal challenges to President Barack Obama’s health overhaul, environmental policies and executive order seeking to protect people living in the United States illegally from deportation.
But Caldwell’s faced repeated criticism that he’s not conservative enough and that his move to the GOP was a ruse. Widely circulated by Republicans was Caldwell’s praise for Democrat Mary Landrieu, before she was defeated last year for re-election to the U.S. Senate.
“Lifelong Democrat Buddy Caldwell only switched Republican to save his public, taxpayer-funded, job,” Christian Gil, a member of the Republican Party’s state central committee from St. Mary Parish, wrote in a letter urging committee members to support Landry.
Party support for Landry comes as the fundraising competition tightens.
In campaign fundraising documents filed this week, Landry reported having nearly $1.4 million in his campaign account, after kicking in $350,000 of his own money. Caldwell closed the quarter with nearly $1.1 million cash on hand, after loaning his campaign $200,000.
A third Republican contender in the race, Port Allen attorney Marty Maley, is far behind in fundraising, with only $9,500 in his campaign account.
To get the endorsement, Landry lobbied members of the GOP state central committee, the party’s governing body. A majority of the members submitted written requests asking for the seven-member party executive committee to support Landry. The vote of the executive committee was unanimous, Villere said.