The state’s loss could be East Baton Rouge Parish’s gain — that’s the thought that went through the minds of many of Jay Dardenne’s avid supporters in his home parish after he failed to break into the run off election to be Louisiana’s next governor last weekend.
Could Dardenne, the current lieutenant governor and a longtime Baton Rouge political darling, pivot and run for East Baton Rouge Parish mayor-president?
Dardenne, who came up fourth in the gubernatorial race, fielded the question multiple times during his campaign over the past few months and always said he wasn’t interested. A full day hadn’t passed after the election results came in on Saturday evening before his phone was lighting up with messages from friends and supporters in the Capitol city asking him to give the local race some serious consideration.
So let’s get this out of the way: Dardenne said Thursday in a phone interview that he’s still not interested.
“I have no plans to run,” he said, adding that the decision was definite.
“I decided before this (gubernatorial) race that if I was not successful, I wasn’t going to run for mayor,” Dardenne said. “It’s been brought up that that would be my fallback, and I never intended for it to be a fallback option.”
He said he hopes to put the rumors to rest, adding that he’s not trying to play political games. He also noted that he’s already been inundated with requests and messages about running.
But his die-hard supporters aren’t likely to give up so quickly.
Baton Rouge attorney Jack Dampf, who supported Dardenne’s gubernatorial campaign, said he’s one of the people who already reached out to him asking him to run for mayor-president next year.
Dampf said just because Dardenne says “no” now, doesn’t mean he should be ruled out completely.
“I believe him in that’s what he believes right now because most people, when they come off of a campaign that didn’t go as you expect, you feel like you don’t want to do it anymore,” Dampf said. “It’s hard work, and it’s not fun. But maybe if he reflects on it awhile, he’ll change his mind. It certainly would be for the public good.”
Not surprisingly, Dardenne’s hotbed of support for governor was in his home parish. He was the fourth-place candidate across the state, pulling 15 percent of voters. But among East Baton Rouge Parish voters, he was the most popular Republican by a landslide, coming in second to Democrat John Bel Edwards, who benefitted, in part, from a lack of competitors in his own party.
Dardenne took 26 percent of the voters cast in East Baton Rouge Parish, more than twice as many as his Republican competitors Scott Angelle and David Vitter.
Pollsters and political consultants say Dardenne would be an odds-on favorite if he jumped in the mayor-president’s race. He’s well-known as a moderate Republican with a history of public service in the parish who could raise money quickly. And he’s maybe one of the few people who has the name recognition and popularity to give Democratic state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, likely to be a formidable frontrunner, a run for her money.
Dardenne has served as a Baton Rouge Metro Councilman, a state senator, secretary of state and lieutenant governor. He is a graduate of Baton Rouge High, LSU and the LSU Law Center.
Pollster Bernie Pinsonat said Dardenne’s moderate politics serve him better in a mayoral race than the governor’s race.
“The politics of Washington D.C. wouldn’t be such a predominant subject in this race,” he said. “His appeal in Baton Rouge is his weakness as governor. He’s moderate, but as a mayor, you don’t want a hardliner either way.”
Clay Young, a political consultant and Baton Rouge radio personality, said Dardenne has the same appeal as Mayor President Kip Holden, who is considered a moderate Democrat. Young said Dardenne is viewed as the type of person who would continue a similar path Holden has set forth, building on quality-of-life initiatives in the Red Stick.
“He’s been accessible to the people for so long; he practices this down-to-earth approach; he understands Baton Rouge pretty well,” Young said. “He wouldn’t have to work hard to introduce himself to Baton Rouge.”
While the mayoral race is still a year out, maybe sooner if Holden wins the lieutenant governor’s race this November, many candidates are already floating their names. Young noted there hasn’t been a big-name Republican who could galvanize the party in Baton Rouge mentioned yet, outside of Dardenne.
The mayor-president race will be November 2016, unless Holden vacated his seat early to take the lieutenant governor position. If he won, a special election could be held to fill the mayoral seat earlier in the year.
“I don’t think it’s high on his priority list,” Young said, asked whether he thought Dardenne could change his mind. “But I believe if he gets into the race, he’d be a favorite.”
Businessman John Noland, who is heavily involved with civic and philanthropic causes in Baton Rouge, said he’s also hoping to see Dardenne run for mayor.
“I’d absolutely click my heels if Jay Dardenne ran for mayor. He’d be a wonderful thing for Baton Rouge,” Noland said. “He has a solid, common-sense approach to government, and he understands the problems and limitations of government.”
Noland also said he has suggested to Dardenne that he should run.
“I’ve mentioned it to him several times,” Noland said. “It’d be a hard job, but one of the reasons I support Jay is that he’ll make this decision on his own. He won’t do so as a result of phone calls.”
Former Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman Alison Gary also supported Dardenne for governor.
“I’d love to see him run for mayor; he’d be a perfect fit,” Gary said. “He’s reasonable. He works well with everybody, and that’s really important as mayor-president. He’ll work with the council, and he’ll hire the right people around him.”
Dampf said he thinks Dardenne could potentially make a bigger difference as mayor than he would have as governor.
“Baton Rouge needs help with infrastructure and with quality of life. Jay would be great for that,” Dampf said, adding that Dardenne could follow in the footsteps of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who also previously served as lieutenant governor.
“I bet he’d tell you it’s a lot more satisfying to be mayor than one of those state jobs,” Dampf said.