By Hastings Wyman –
The Louisiana governor’s race is off to a late start, due primarily to an unusually late filing deadline. Most television ads have just begun running and there are no recent public polls. Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat notes that although the primary is less than a month away, “There is a real lack of interest,” but adds, “The race is just beginning.”
Four candidates are seeking to succeed Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), the term-limited incumbent who is running for president. The three Republicans are US Sen. David Vitter, the early and heavy favorite; Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne; and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. The lone Democrat is state Rep. John Bel Edwards. Unless someone wins a majority in the October 24 “jungle primary” open to all candidates regardless of party, the top two will face off in a runoff on November 21.
“The general consensus is that unless there’s a shakeup, you’re looking for a runoff between Vitter and Edwards,” says Democratic consultant Trey Ourso. Democrat Edwards would probably be the easiest foe for Vitter to defeat in the runoff, in that the contest would pit a Republican against a Democrat at a time when the GOP is riding high in the state. Thus, TV spots from the super-PAC supporting Vitter have concentrated negative ads against Dardenne and Angelle, the two other Republicans in the race.
Dardenne, who is launching a statewide tour on September 30, notes his conservative record as an elected official, touts the 26,000 tourism jobs he helped create, and promises more transparency in government. Incidentally, if he were to win, Dardenne would become the first Jewish governor of the state.
Angelle is “a well-known commodity with the natural resources folks,” says one source, due to his record as Public Service Commissioner, and is knowledgeable about wetlands, a major concern in the Bayou State.
Although John Bel Edwards is a long shot in the runoff, he does have “a better profile than earlier Democratic candidates,” says the GOP insider. He represents a Republican area of the state (the North Shore) and is a graduate of West Point, always a major plus in the South. Moreover, his father was a sheriff. “He’s not seen as a wild-eyed liberal,” says the GOPer. Nevertheless, he concludes, “Louisiana these days is too red to elect a Democrat.”
Dardenne has been the most aggressive in his attacks on Vitter, in particular bringing up Vitter’s personal scandal, in which he was listed on a Washington, DC madam’s client list in 2007. At one forum, someone asked the candidates whether they had ever violated Title 14 of the Louisiana Code, the criminal title. Dardenne answered a firm no. Vitter contended the question was planted, most likely by Dardenne, and probably referred to the 2007 incident. Answering further, reported the Times-Picayune, he said, “I’ve spoken
about my past and how my family has dealt with that. If that’s not good enough for you, then that’s not good enough. But it’s good enough for Wendy,” his wife. In addition to this incident, a number of TV spots are airing that slam Vitter for the scandal, paid for by a trial lawyers’ super-PAC.
“I don’t know if it will affect him that much,” says Pinsonat, “because his base – the Tea Party, the religious right… considers him the only conservative in the race.” And a Republican insider contends, “It’s old news… After Edwin Edwards” – whose philandering was legendary – “I’m not sure it plays that well.” Indeed, Vitter was easily reelected to the Senate in 2010 and has continued to play a major role in state politics.
Although the incumbent Gov. Jindal, is a Republican, he is busy running for president and is not active in the gubernatorial race, and might not be welcome were he to get involved. Dr. Silas Lee, a sociologist and pollster who is also active in the black political community, says “All the candidates are running as anti-Jindal. None are saying, ‘We need to finish what Jindal started.’ He has one of the lowest approval ratings (of any governor) in the US… He inherited a billion dollar surplus, now we have a billion dollar deficit.”
On the money front, Vitter is far better funded than the other candidates. At one point, he had more than $5 million on hand, more than his three opponents combined. Dardenne had $1.8 million, Angelle $1 million, and Democrat Edwards $1.1 million.
Pinsonat says “The betting money today is on Vitter, because he dominates the Republican conservatives – the Tea Party, the religious right, he’s their guy. He also has the rural ‘bubba’ Democrats.” As for Edwards, he is supported by “the few whites that are still Democrats, and most – just about all – of African Americans.”
Due to the late filing deadline, and some uncertainty about who the final contenders might be, “There aren’t any polls out that are new and include cell phones,” says Pinsonat. In the last poll that included cell phones as well as land lines, taken in May by Southern Media and Opinion Research, Pinsonat’s firm, Vitter led with 38%, followed by 24% for Edwards, 11% for Dardenne and 5% for Angelle.
In sum, the likelihood is for Vitter to lead on October 24 and then win the November 21 runoff, probably against Democrat Edwards. But then, the race is just starting. Stay tuned.