BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican Senate candidate Bill Cassidy finally got the tea party assist Monday that he sought in his bid to oust Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, drawing the endorsement of his former GOP competitor and rallying with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Tea partyer Rob Maness is urging the more than 202,000 people who voted for him in last week's midterm election to cast ballots for Cassidy in the Dec. 6 runoff — a coalition that could give Cassidy a decided edge over Landrieu.
"I'm very confident that you'll see as I do that he is a man of faith, who loves our country, loves Louisiana, loves his family and loves these United States," Maness said at a GOP "unity rally." A vote for anyone else, he added, "is a victory for Barack Obama and that, my friends, is not an option."
Paul described last week's election and the Republican gains made in Congress as a "repudiation of the president and his policies," calling Landrieu a rubber stamp for the president.
"It's time to bring her home," he said in a packed Huey's Bar, named after Louisiana's most famous Democratic politician Huey Long.
The twin endorsements came during the first full week of political battle between Cassidy and Landrieu, who aired an ad questioning Cassidy's fitness for office. The spot, launched Sunday during the New Orleans Saints football game, featured quick cuts from a May 31 speech in which Cassidy appears to stumble over words and repeat himself.
"We'd lose Mary Landrieu's clout for this?" the narrator says.
Questioned about the ad, Cassidy's campaign spokesman John Cummins steered again to the unpopular president, saying: "Mary Landrieu may prefer the speaking style of President Obama, but Dr. Cassidy is focused on working hard, knowing the issues and representing the people of Louisiana, not Barack Obama."
Even if Landrieu wins the runoff, she will lose her Senate energy committee chairmanship in January to a Republican. The GOP won at least seven seats, enough for the majority, last week in the midterm elections. The Alaska Senate race has not been called for either Democratic Sen. Mark Begich or Republican Dan Sullivan.
Landrieu and Cassidy, who were the top two vote-getters in Louisiana's all-candidate primary Tuesday, advanced to the runoff. But the GOP rout nationally has taken some of the urgency out of Landrieu's pitch.
Cassidy was looking to sustain his momentum with the endorsements from Paul, Maness and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who like Paul is considering a run for president. Christian conservative organizer Tony Perkins, who previously had withheld his support from Cassidy, also released a letter endorsing Cassidy.
But Maness' support could make the most difference. Cassidy needs the tea party favorite's votes to win Dec. 6.
After months of criticizing Cassidy as part of a broken Washington establishment, Maness said Monday that he'll now be campaigning for the GOP congressman, and he said he'll be with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at a Cassidy event this weekend.
"I'm a Reagan Republican, and that's what we do, unify and go forward once we get a nominee," Maness said after the rally.
Polls show Cassidy leading in the runoff, and Landrieu in trouble.
Fifty-eight percent of voters supported one of Landrieu's opponents in last week's election, and the national Democratic Party has decided against advertising support for her in the runoff.
Trying to counter suggestions that Democrats have given up on Landrieu, the senator's campaign released its first post-election fundraising details, saying she's brought in more than $400,000 in online donations over the first five days of the continuing campaign.
But Cassidy had more in the bank than Landrieu heading into the runoff — and the Senate Republicans' campaign arm has booked $2.8 million in ad time to support Cassidy and attack Landrieu before Dec. 6.