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Dr. Tammy Savoie, Decorated Air Force Veteran, Will Challenge Steve Scalise

The retired Lt. Colonel becomes the House Majority Whip’s third announced opponent.

In a press statement issued late yesterday afternoon, Dr. Tammy Savoie, a retired Air Force psychologist, announced her candidacy for Louisiana’s First Congressional District.

She faces five-term incumbent Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the state’s most well-known elected officials. He currently serves as House Majority Whip, the third most powerful job in the GOP-led Congress.

Scalise won his last election with 74.6% of the vote and has more than $1.5 million in campaign cash, according to the most recently available reports.

Savoie, who had actually filed with the FEC on May 9th, is Scalise’s third announced challenger and the second Democratic candidate in the race. In addition to her press statement, Savoie also released a one-minute-and-45-second video announcement titled “Bring It On.”

Jim Francis, a Democrat from Covington, became Scalise’s first opponent when he launched his campaign in late March, though he didn’t file a statement of candidacy with the FEC until yesterday. Howard Kearney, a libertarian from Mandeville, entered the race on April 11th, and one of Scalise’s 2016 opponents, Lee Ann Dugas, has indicated that she will run again, which would make her the third Democrat in a district that heavily favors Republicans.

Right now, though, Savoie’s opponents all have something in common, and it’s not just that they’e all men.

“Tammy’s declared opponents include: Steve Scalise – a computer programmer and now career politician, Jim Francis – a computer programmer, and Howard Kearney – a computer programmer,” her campaign notes in its announcement. (Francis points out that his work is concerned with Information Technology security, which has become increasingly important in the aftermath of Russian election interference).

Savoie, who has never before sought political office, retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2016, following a 38-year-long career in the military, including 15 years in the Louisiana National Guard. After earning her Ph.D in psychology from Emory University, she joined the Air Force, which took her across the world, including a deployment to Afghanistan. Prior to her retirement, she worked as Chief of International Health, traveling extensively across the Middle East.

She is also a single mother, a native of the greater New Orleans area, and a graduate of St. Mary’s Dominican High School and UNO.

Lt. Col. Tammy Savoie and daughter Jessica Savoie (Credit: Savoie campaign)

Her name was first floated as a potential political candidate in late January, when she was a member of the inaugural class of Emerge Louisiana, a nonprofit organization that works to elect more Democratic women. “Class member Tammy Savoie (is) a New Orleans native that the organization hopes to groom for Republican Rep. Stephanie Hilferty’s district seat and, one day, Congressman Steve Scalise’s seat on Capitol Hill,” Sarah Gamard of LAPolitics reported at the time.

While some Democrats privately express concerns that a crowded primary field undermines the opportunity, however remote it may now seem, to edge out a victory against a powerful incumbent, Savoie’s campaign argues the opposite is true.

“More Democrats in the race just means more resources working to educate voters that Steve Scalise isn’t looking out for the people of his own district, and bring his vote share below 50%,” Kristine Breithaupt, Savoie campaign consultant, tells me. “The voters will decide which one of our Democratic candidates will take on Scalise in a runoff. And I’m confident it will be Tammy Savoie.”

Although both Francis and Savoie are each running a serious campaign operation, staffed by professionals, it remains to be seen whether either of them will be able to raise enough money to compete with the $1.5 million already behind Scalise. Francis had previously disclosed he had collected a little less than $7,000, and Savoie has yet to reveal any details about her campaign finances (reports are due within the next two weeks).

A few short hours after Savoie sent her announcement to the press (which was embargoed until the time of publication), the state’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Cedric Richmond, seemed to make it clear what he thought about the chances of defeating Scalise. “I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure that Steve Scalise is the majority leader next Congress,” Richmond told members of the Louisiana House of Representatives. He’d meant to say “minority leader,” but the punchline got away from him. Either way, the joke doesn’t exactly help the Democrats hoping to unseat the House Whip.

Still, Democratic insiders, even those who acknowledge the odds are stacked against them, believe that Savoie is destined to become a leader. Two different Democrats used the same term to me in describing Savoie: “Rock star.”

And to her credit, Savoie isn’t naive at all about the challenges she faces.

“I know the political elite will say I’m running against the wind in a red district,” she said in her announcement, “but to that I say: ‘Bring it on.’”

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