Filed Under:  News, State

Upcoming governor’s race, U.S. senate race intertwine

8th April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

A steady procession of politicos have been making pilgrimage to the Fifth Floor of the Baton Rouge Capital Annex. They come to court Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, urging him to seek promotion to the state’s top job.

And, while Dardenne seems ready to jump into the 2015 contest for the governorship, his eyes and those of his courtiers are fixed upon the U.S. Senate race in 2014. They’re reasoning is that Sen. Landrieu’s fate will determine the dynamics for the race for the executive mansion.

To their way of thinking a possible Landrieu defeat could influence whether her junior GOP colleague David Vitter chooses to make a run for governor or whether or not her brother New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu decides to throw his hat in the ring against Dardenne.

Also considering entering the governor’s race inside sources reveal to The Louisiana Weekly, in an exclusive, that Treasurer John Kennedy is as likely to challenge Dardenne if Vitter decides not to run.

The only announced Democrat for governor in 2015, State Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, remains keen on a race, but Democratic Party insiders believe the House Caucus leader would stand aside if Mitch Landrieu, the stronger contender, decided to run for the Governorship.

As this jockeying transpires over who shall possess the state’s Executive Mansion, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu learned of the first opponent openly craving her seat, Baton Rouge Republican Congressman Dr. Bill Cassidy.

In a video press release Tuesday, Cassidy announced his candidacy with the words, “As a family, we have decided that I will run for the United States Senate in the election held November 2014 and it’s going to be a tough race. I’m running against Sen. Mary Landrieu who’s been there for 18 years and against the most powerful man in the world, Barack Obama.”

Cassidy went on to charge that President Obama “wants Sen. Landrieu re-elected because she’s given him a blank check for his wasteful spending.”

A day later, Cassidy’s fellow GOP Congressman from Louisiana, Dr. John Fleming, of Minden, said he would not enter the 2014 U.S. Senate race. “For me to enter the race now would risk a contest between two experienced Republican congressmen, potentially offering Sen. Landrieu a path back to Washington. I can’t let that happen,” Fleming said in his announcement.

Fleming, who’s voting record ranks him as the most conservative member of the Louisiana congressional delegation, had openly pondered over the last year running for the U.S. Senate as a more Tea Party-leaning, conservative alternative to Cassidy. Instead, he says he is throwing his support behind the Baton Rouge Congressman.

Quickly, upon Fleming’s making his decision known, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., voiced words that stopped short of a complete endorsement of Cassidy, but leaving no doubt for whom the senior Senator will exercise his clout.

“John is a real fighter, and I think his stature and role in the House will grow enormously,” Vitter said in a prepared statement. “His announcement also makes it clear that Bill Cassidy will be the single major conservative challenging Mary Landrieu. It should be a very competitive race, and one that will help decide whether (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid and Barack Obama continue to run the U.S. Senate.”

Thickening the plot, Vitter’s communications director, Joel DiGrado, last week officially became Cassidy’s new campaign manager.

Other Republicans still kicking around the idea of entering the race are former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, and state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge. Of course, more expect that Roemer would opt to replace Cassidy in the U.S. House.

But, Roemer, taking after his outsider former-Gubernatorial father, criticized this week’s developments, “I’m still considering it. It sounds to me they made a deal in Washington, D.C. and that’s part of the problem,” Roemer said about Cassidy’s and Fleming’s decisions. “What happened this week is exactly what’s wrong with politics in America today,” Roemer added.

He opined publicly of the machinations of the next two races that plenty in politics gossip about privately. Mary Landrieu’s seat is key for the GOP to capture control of the U.S. Senate at the midterms, but her re-election also stands as a bellwether for Democratic aspirations in the state. If Mary Landrieu, with 18 years incumbency and high popularity cannot win — even against a GOP tide, would her brother do better running for the Governorship?

Has Louisiana transformed politically enough that even moderate Democrats with high name recognition can not compete, at least for a while?

Poll findings remain confused to say the least.

Last week, Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media Opinion and Research, released a poll showing Mary Landrieu with an approval rating of 56%. However, the number who said they would “definitely” vote for Sen. Landrieu was nearly identical to those who said they would definitely vote for someone else – 37 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

Pinsonat argued that his survey showed that 56 percent of the respondents were less likely to vote for Landrieu because of her support for President Obama’s health care reform, and that this will be her biggest obstacle.

Should she overcome it in what promises to be a high volume and enthusiastic race with Cassidy, Mary Landrieu will prove that even alliances with an African-American President cannot dull the dynasty of the “Creole Kennedys” in the Pelican State.

Enter Mayor — and former Lt. Governor — Mitch Landrieu. He has distinctly avoided making any public consideration of running for governor in 2015. Of course, the male Landrieu\ has the small matter of an election of his own in 2014. For a White Candidate in 60/40 Orleans Parish, that is not a cakewalk. Mitch Landrieu would be the first to point out that he ran three times before he won his father’s former job.

Still, national polling data shows that he’s in a solid position to run for governor. North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, which conducts polls for Democrats and progressives, puts U.S. Sen. David Vitter and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a dead heat for Louisiana’s 2015 governor’s race, with Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne only slightly behind.

The polling was conducted on Feb. 8 to Feb. 12. It surveyed 603 Louisiana voters through automated telephone interviews, with a margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.

The polling results have Mitch Landrieu and Vitter, R-La., in a head-to-head match at 44 percent. Landrieu led 44 percent to 42 percent against Dardenne.

What the survey did not do is consider the dynamics of the governor’s race if all three ran simultaneously. Should Mary Landrieu win re-election, and her brother determines that 2015 is the year to make real his other long-held political ambition, the dynamics become remarkable.

Jay Dardenne has the ability, unique amongst Republicans, of swinging moderate, normally Democratic voters. He, unlike either Mitch Landrieu of Uptown (nee’ Broadmoor) or David Vitter of Old Metairie (nee’ Broadmoor), can unify anti-New Orleans sentiment without saying a word. The city remains unpopular in the other parts of the state.

To count either Vitter or Landrieu out would be a mistake. As the PPP poll noted, Landrieu had a 49 percent favorability rating compared with 26 percent unfavorable and 25 percent “not sure.”

“Mitch Landrieu has an unusual amount of appeal to Louisiana voters for a Democrat,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. “A gubernatorial run by him would make for a pretty interesting race.”

Vitter, likewise emerged strong in this Democratic-leaning poll. The Senator had a 46 percent job approval rating with 38 percent disapproving and 16 percent “not sure.”

Dardenne proved to be the enigma of the poll. He enjoyed a 41 percent favorability rating with 23 percent grading him unfavorable and 35 percent “not sure.”

In theory, against Landrieu, Dardenne pulls conservatives and anti-New Orleans moderates. Against Vitter, in an all GOP contest similar to the recent Lt. Gubernatorial and Sec. State contests, Dardenne has the unique ability to pull Democrats into a coalition with anti-New Orleans Republicans.

In a race where all three stand together in a primary, the PPP data seems to suggest that Dardenne could navigate through the middle of Landrieu’s African-American and Democratic support and Vitter’s Tea Party backers across the state. That a strong turn out from Dardenne’s Baton Rouge-base, merged with anti-New Orleans sentiment against both men might prove enough to enter a runoff, and then win.

That is the question, and in such a race, it is worth remembering that all three have run statewide against formidable opponents. Landrieu is well-known in Shreveport, and Monroe. Vitter moved to Alexandria when he first ran for the U.S. Senate. And Dardenne, who had Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and most of the city’s Black leadership when he ran for Lt. governor, would not enjoy that native advantage as they organized for Landrieu.

Still, Dardenne has one other potential advantage. The Gubernatorial field might be even more crowded than the pundits perceive. Republican State Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain is reportedly telling friends and associates that he plans to run. From his political base in St. Tammany, he hurts both Dardenne and Vitter with the GOP electorate, but the latter perhaps more than the former. And, Northshore pro-Landrieu moderates, the few that remain, have noted a tendency to support native sons over even more centrist or liberal candidates. St. Tammany Sen. Tom Schedler proved that in his better returns from his home parish that Dardenne’s as each ran for Secretary of State and Lt. governor respectively.

But all of this speculation remains dependent on whether Mary Landrieu wins, and the PPP poll puts her in a stronger position than Pinsonat’s, who’s SMOR often conducts surveys for Republicans. Her lead over Cassidy in the PPP survey was 10 points (50-40).

That’s a larger lead than Landrieu had over most prospective challengers. But this probably reflects the fact that Cassidy isn’t yet well known statewide. Only 43 percent of those polled had an opinion of him.

This article originally published in the April 8, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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