Currently, there is only one Democrat representing Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives, Charlie Melancon of Louisiana’s Third Congressional District. Melancon, of course, has decided to forgo a re-election campaign in order to challenge David Vitter for the Senate. Very early on (actually, before Melancon even “officially” announced his intention to run for Senate), Ravi Sangisetty, a young, Ivy League-educated, Indian-American lawyer, made it known that if Melancon was going to run for Senate, then he would run for Melancon’s seat as a Democrat.
Once Melancon made it official, Sangisetty and his campaign began aggressively yet quietly raising money, and because no one challenged him in the primary, he hasn’t had to spend aggressively. So far, Sangisetty has taken a relatively low-profile, which is probably wise considering the on-going blood bath between the two Republicans, Hunt Downer and Jeff Landry, who would like to challenge him. Both men are veterans of the Louisiana National Guard, and both are apparently “attacking” one another over their respective military experience, which has left some conservatives feeling exasperated.
Last week, Landry, who is supported by the so-called “Tea Party of Louisiana” (which is, in actuality, just a group of Republicans and not some independent voting bloc), captured more than 49% of the vote in the Republican primary, a strong showing but one that, unfortunately for him, means competing, once again, against Hunt Downer (who received 36% of the vote) in a run-off election.
I expect Sangisetty’s campaign will continue to play it cool, sit back, and watch as Downer and Landry spend money attacking one another. No matter who ultimately emerges as the Republican candidate, they will be bruised and, more than likely, in need of cash.
Regardless, the Republican candidate’s biggest challenge will be Ravi Sangisetty, because although he’s taken a low profile, he’s actually raised more money than anyone else.
Sangisetty has nearly twice as much cash-on-hand than Jeff Landry, the likely favorite, and according to the most recent reports, he’s raised over $100,000 more in individual donations. I’ve noticed that the folks over at The Hayride have described Sangisetty’s campaign as self-financed. He did take out a personal loan for his campaign, which is commonplace for a first-time candidate, but even if he hadn’t, Sangisetty would still be leading in fundraising, big time. In mid-July, his campaign announced that he had raised over $500,000 from 800 individual donors.
Money, to paraphrase James Carville, is the mother’s milk of politics, and Sangisetty’s raised more than enough money to mount a serious general election campaign in a district currently held by a Democrat.
And there is a good reason Sangisetty has been able to raise so much money so quickly. He’s a substantive candidate. It would be a mistake to underestimate him. Louisiana, after all, has a track record of electing young, Ivy League-educated, Indian-Americans, and Sangisetty is carving out detailed policy priorities on the issues that matter most to the people of Louisiana’s Third Congressional District. I’ve been particularly impressed by his outspoken criticism of the Army Corps of Engineers.
To be sure, Sangisetty is, by no means, a “progressive” or “liberal” Democrat. His campaign refers to him as a “pro-life, pro-gun conservative Democrat” in every single e-mail they send out. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of framing an election around the issue of abortion, and frankly, I have no idea what “pro-gun” even means.
Considering the current divisions within the Republican party and the contentious race between Landry and Downer, Sangisetty could pull off a victory, particularly if he decides to begin spending money as aggressively as he raised money. With a few wise investments in television and radio, Sangisetty can immediately and significantly increase his name recognition. If Landry wins the run-off election against Downer, Sangisetty will also have the opportunity to peel off Downer voters. Downer is running a much more moderate and centrist campaign than Landry, and Sangisetty is also much more moderate and centrist than Landry. (In my opinion, without a doubt, the race would be exponentially more difficult for Sangisetty if Downer wins the run-off).
Either way, this is an election worth watching, and even though he’s been quiet, Sangisetty’s fundraising efforts clearly demonstrate that he is ready, willing, and able to make this into a real competition.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that many believe Louisiana’s Third Congressional District will be eliminated due to reapportionment. But of course, even if it is eliminated, the next Congressman from Louisiana’s Third can still run for re-election as an incumbent. Reapportionment doesn’t mean that this year’s election is pointless; it just means that the really interesting battle could occur in two years, when there could potentially be a rare race between two incumbent Congressmen.
For the purpose of full disclosure, I am one of the 800+ people who donated to Sangisetty’s campaign. His wife Sarah and I have been friends since the 7th grade; we were debate partners in high school. Yes, he is married to a native Alexandrian. And he is lucky: Sarah is one of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever encountered.
Update: A representative of the Tea Party of Louisiana contacted me today to let me know that although the half of their board are Republicans, they also have Independents and Libertarians as well. I asked him if they would agree to a written interview, and he obliged. So soon, I hope to post an interview with officials of the Tea Party of Louisiana.