How Vulnerable is Buddy Caldwell?

This story was originally published Sept.19 as part of Issue 952 of LaPolitics Weekly. 

When Attorney General Buddy Caldwell squeezed former A.G. Charles Foti out of the 2007 runoff and went on to become Louisiana’s top attorney, he taught everyone that there’s nothing permanent about being an incumbent. Now there’s a slowly growing field of candidates who may be hoping to teach him the same lesson.

Democrats see the Republican statewide official—he got off the donkey in 2011—as vulnerable and party sources say two of their own are beginning to look at challenging Caldwell in 2015. They include Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, and Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy, two contenders who could lightly cut into Caldwell ’s bases of support in central and northern Louisiana. Gallot, however, is also said to be considering the lieutenant governor’s race, but not as seriously, since Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden is a potential contender in the No. 2 contest and would make it more difficult for another black Democrat to enter and succeed.

To be certain, Caldwell has seen better days. He has roughly $400,000 in his campaign finance account, based on his last report filed in January, but raised only $17,400 last year. That’s one of his smallest receipt totals ever—this from a pol who can easily raise in one year what his entire campaign kitty currently holds. It’ll be interesting to see, when he files his updated report next year, whether Caldwell has returned to his annual six-figure pace, especially after it was revealed earlier this year that his office had spent more than $15 million on outside attorneys and firms working on the state’s 2010 oil spill case—and that eight of those 11 firms were campaign contributors.

Still, the attorney general can’t be discounted. “Buddy has the ability to raise money from several different areas and he can turn it on whenever he is ready,” said one Democratic elected official. “It wouldn’t be smart to count him out.”

Caldwell has likewise become a target for oil and gas interests, due to his office’s opinions on industrial water usage and his own decision to allow a New Orleans area levee board to hire special counsel to sue 97 energy companies.

This came to mind this past week when an op-ed piece was released by former Congressman Jeff Landry, a New Iberia Republican who bumped heads with the oil and gas industry as he was leaving office during the last federal election cycle. Various sources say Landry has expressed just as much interest in running in the 6th Congressional District in 2014 as he has for attorney general in 2015. Either way, he certainly seems to be doubling down on his relationship with oil and gas lately.

In the piece, Landry accuses Caldwell of instituting his own “Buddy System” in regard to the levee board suit. “The actions of our attorney general would turn the state’s coastal protection and flood control issues into an ambulance chasing free for all,” Landry writes. “It’s bad policy. It’s reckless. And, it’s flat irresponsible.”

The anti-Caldwell list doesn’t stop there. Martin Maley, an assistant district attorney in the Port Allen-based 18th Judicial District and a private attorney who recently switched to Republican, is already spending money on billboards. He has scheduled more than a dozen fundraisers for the current year and has also conducted some outreach to Louisiana’s sheriffs. Additionally, Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, has been encouraged to run more than once, but may instead put his force behind becoming speaker next term.

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