RABALAIS’ POLITICAL HISTORY: John Breaux’s Last-Minute Win Over Henson Moore

U.S. Sen. Russell B. Long’s announcement that he would retire after 36 years in the upper chamber was unexpected, as he had been building his war chest and campaigning for next year’s re-election.

But what was more unexpected was the nasty race that unfolded in the contest to succeed him.

Congressman Henson Moore, a Baton Rouge Republican who had been contemplating a challenge to Long, became the first candidate to jump into the race after the news broke in Feb. 1985. Former Republican Gov. Dave Treen briefly considered getting in, but ultimately decided to pass. So as the sole GOP entry, Moore could enjoy a monopoly on fundraising and support.

Congressman John Breaux of Crowley was the next candidate in. The conservative Democrat with a solid base in his Acadiana congressional district was a formidable contender. Other Democratic candidates in the field included Senate President Sammy Nunez, Sen. J. E. Jumonville and Insurance Commissioner Sherman Bernard. Then-Gov. Edwin Edwards was urged to consider a bid, but he was more occupied with ongoing legal problems.

It soon became a head-to-head between Moore and Breaux. Breaux played the ground game hard by criss-crossing the state on the campaign trail. But Moore outspent him 3-1, blanketing the state with ads and signs.

Moore also enjoyed support from the White House, with President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush making trips to Louisiana to fundraise and campaign for him. Reagan even cut a TV spot for Moore in the Oval Office, telling viewers, “America needs the talent and hard work of confident, people oriented leaders like Henson Moore.”

On Primary Day, Moore finished first with 44 percent of the vote and moved into a runoff with Breaux. With a comfortable lead and a flush war chest, it looked like Moore would flip Louisiana’s Senate seat for the first time since Reconstruction.

However, Republicans’ dreams were derailed when documents surfaced implicating the state GOP and Moore’s campaign as complicit in a complicated effort to suppress African-American turnout. When Moore tried to tie Breaux to the alleged corruption of Edwards, Breaux’s former boss, the governor got his money and support behind the congressman from Crowley.

On Election Day, Breaux won the seat with 53 percent, keeping it in the Democrats’ hands.

Republicans would not win back a U.S. Senate seat for another 18 years.

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