U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville might be the top Louisiana Democrat in the House, but back home in the 3rd Congressional District his politics are on somewhat shaky ground. Earlier this month, the National Republican Campaign Committee spent money on radio ads attacking Melancon's claims of being a fiscal conservative as a member of the all-Democratic Blue Dog Coalition. The spot contends Melancon doesn't vote like a Blue Dog, but rather "like a lapdog — a lapdog for (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and President (Barack) Obama."
Additionally, special interest groups are predicting that the 3rd Congressional District, which is anchored by Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes as well as portions of Acadiana, could be merged with New Orleans' 2nd Congressional District after redistricting goes into effect in 2011. Redistricting takes place after each U.S. census and next year's survey could leave Melancon living in a dramatically different district.
When asked to comment on the situation in a recent interview, Melancon said he wasn't giving it much thought. That was probably an understatement.
On paper, however, Melancon's situation looks better. He was elected unopposed to a third term last year and is presently sitting on more than $1 million in his campaign kitty. Moreover, the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election tracker, is forecasting that the 3rd Congressional District will remain under Democratic control following the 2010 fall elections.
But not every piece of paper shows a rosy outlook for the congressman. For instance, The Daily Iberian reported on a contentious meeting where Melancon took considerable heat from his constituents in that area. Reporter Heather Miller's first sentence offers a snapshot: "U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon 'took a beating' from a crowd of fiery residents Thursday night as he defended his recent voting record on several bills in Congress including the economic stimulus package, corporate bailouts and the federal budget."
That kind of press has Melancon's political enemies digging around for a candidate. In Ascension Parish, business owners have been lobbying Sheriff Jeff Wiley, a Democrat, to run against Melancon. Wiley, however, says it isn't in the cards, although he admitted that anything can happen over the next few months. "I'm flattered by the notion, but I enjoy being sheriff and I don't have intentions to be anything but sheriff," Wiley says. "I don't see me running."
Meanwhile, the NRCC has been courting state Rep. Nickie Monica, R-LaPlace. For his part, Monica says the 3rd Congressional District is much more conservative than many people think; U.S. Sen. John McCain carried the region with 61 percent as last year's Republican presidential candidate. "What gets me is the congressman comes back in the district and says he's a Blue Dog Democrat, but he doesn't have the record to back it up," Monica says. "I want to challenge that."
Independent journalist John Maginnis noted in his Louisiana Political Fax Weekly last month that national Democrats could use the growing competition to lure Melancon back into running against GOP Sen. David Vitter of Metairie next year, rather than making another bid for his House seat.
Melancon pondered the changeup in 2008, but announced in March of this year that he had decided against it — albeit in a style that left the proverbial door open a bit. "Never say never," Melancon said then, "but I'm not contemplating a run at this time."
Robin Winchell, Melancon's communications director, was contacted for this story but declined to comment because it was campaign-related (federal election laws seek to separate district work from campaign work). She also added by email that the congressman was likewise passing on campaign-related interviews "at this point."
Scott Jordan, communications director for the Louisiana Democratic Party, says Melancon is focused "on the issues that are most important to Louisiana and his constituents," and not on politics. "From health care and education to coastal erosion and business development, Congressman Melancon is committed to working toward solutions and legislation that benefit our state, our families and our economy," Jordan says.
That may be the company line for now, but those close to Melancon predict he'll soon focus on something else — Vitter's seat. And he won't be alone. A number of Democrats are sniffing around the post, most notably Shaw CEO Jim Bernhard, who put his money where his mouth is last month when he returned $13.5 million in economic development funds to the state to help patch holes in the higher education budget. State Sen. Eric LaFleur of Ville Platte and former Congressman Chris John of Crowley have also been mentioned.
Then there's political tenderfoot Stormy Daniels, who, thanks to an illustrious career in adult cinema, already has a following. She also has experience in a key area — child protection issues, for which she has long been an advocate. Recruited by Democratic operatives, Daniels announced last month that she was forming an exploratory committee but had not yet decided to run. That may be so, but Daniels sure looks like a seasoned pol. "Too many in government ignore the voices of those whom they claim to represent," she said in a recent press release. "I promise you that I will not."
She also has a crafty team behind her. On her campaign Web site, www.teamstormy.com, the first 100 contributors are offered an autographed copy of her memoir Stormblazer!, which details her life up to the listening tour she conducted this year to gauge voter response. "Stormblazer! is a one-of-a-kind piece of political history," the Web site promises.
Somehow, somewhere, it's quite possible that Melancon and Daniels will cross paths, which would thrill and tickle national Democrats. But they wouldn't be thrilled that Louisiana's top Dem is running in the same circles as one of the world's most noticeable porn starlets. If he does, it would be because Melancon is parlaying his popularity as a three-term congressman into an aggressive bid against Vitter, whose background will create just as much sex-chatter as Daniels' next year, when election-season foreplay finally gives way to the big show.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.