With the last Senate race of 2014 to be decided in Louisiana on Dec. 6, conservatives have begun to unite behind Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy with the goal of unseating Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu.
On Saturday, four days after he placed third (13 percent of the vote), behind Landrieu (42 percent) and Cassidy (41 percent), in the initial balloting, retired Air Force colonel and "tea party" favorite Rob Maness announced he was backing fellow Republican Cassidy in the runoff next month.
"We reached out to Rob right after the election," state Republican Chairman Roger Villere Jr. told Newsmax on Sunday. "We spoke to him and his team and had a meeting."
Villere recalled how Cassidy himself was in touch with the Republican who probably denied him an outright win Nov. 4, and "Bill and his wife went out to dinner with Rob and his wife at Ye Old College Inn in New Orleans. There really was a level of comfort after that."
On Monday, Nov. 10, former opponents Cassidy and Maness will join hands at a "unity rally" in Baton Rouge. Also scheduled to be on stage are Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.), Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who refused to side with either Cassidy or Maness and confined his campaigning to candidates in other states.
Although Jindal was neutral, party Chairman Villere explained to Newsmax that a petition signed by an "overwhelming number" of the 220 members of the state GOP's Central Committee led the party's Executive Committee to endorse Cassidy in the initial balloting.
Maness, a favorite of the "tea party," had run with the backing of Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Patriots, and Woody Jenkins, longtime conservative leader in the Pelican State and Landrieu's GOP opponent in her first Senate race in 1996.
On Oct. 25, Cassidy cited his conservative voting record to Newsmax and said, "I don't, for the life of me, have a clue what the problem [Maness] and the folks backing him have with me as a conservative!"
"Look, I'm strongly endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee, the National Rifle Association, [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry, [former GOP presidential hopeful] Herman Cain, and Dr. Ben Carson. There are few with more impeccable conservative credentials than this group."
But rather than criticize Maness and his backers, Cassidy — a physician by trade — focused his fire on Landrieu, who, he quickly reminded, "cast the deciding vote for Obamacare and votes with President Obama 97 percent of the time."
Just as almost every poll showed Maness would draw enough votes to deny Landrieu and Cassidy enough votes to win the race with an outright majority on Nov. 4, the same surveys almost universally showed the physician-candidate easily beating the three-term senator next month.
A Rasmussen Poll, for example, showed that among likely voters statewide, Cassidy defeats Landrieu by a margin of 52 percent to 43 percent. A CBS News/New York Times/You Gov poll gave Cassidy the edge over Landrieu by 46 percent to 42 percent.
But these polls were conducted before the November balloting and Cassidy's unexpectedly strong performance against Landrieu despite the presence of fellow Republican Maness. With momentum coming from his near-tie with Landrieu and with Republicans of all stripes behind him, Cassidy is thought to be running even farther ahead of the embattled incumbent.
A strong sign that Democrats themselves see a "rescue mission" of Landrieu as hopeless came last Thursday, when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled its commercials on her behalf from both network and cable television.
"With Republicans sure to run the Senate, she won't be chairman of the Energy Committee or chairman of anything," the GOP's Villere told Newsmax. "So, maybe that's a reason we're getting reports that some of the folks who backed her because they thought she'd have clout aren't returning her calls these days."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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