The big battle in the Louisiana lieutenant governor’s race will be between well-funded Republicans Billy Nungesser and John Young as they fight to gain a runoff spot against Democrat Kip Holden.
That’s the word from political consultants, analysts and the candidates themselves assessing the race ahead.
Most say Holden is pretty well guaranteed to advance to a Nov. 21 general election after the Oct. 24 primary by virtue of being the only Democrat in the race.
But Holden’s got an uphill climb after that, they say, given Louisiana voters’ propensity in recent statewide votes to elect Republicans. And he’ll have to raise a lot of campaign cash, which he hasn’t to date.
“The Kipper is the horse in the race right now, and the issue is, what do these two guys do to get in the runoff?” political consultant Roy Fletcher said, using a nickname for the three-term Baton Rouge mayor.
Fletcher, who works with Republican candidates, predicted “a very expensive race” for Nungesser and Young.
Nungesser, a former Plaquemines Parish president, and Young, the current Jefferson Parish president, will be “fighting over the white voters who are left,” he said.
LSU political scientist Robert Hogan said Louisiana voter registration tells the story. Forty-six percent of registered voters today are Democrats, and more than half of them — like Holden — are African-Americans.
“It stands to reason if there’s one major Democrat running who is pretty well-known, they are going to make the runoff,” Hogan said.
“To mobilize voters outside their base of support, money becomes very important,” he said. “I think money is going to matter a lot for a race that’s not getting a lot of media attention.”
Nungesser and Young are gearing up to take their case to voters as they vie for the No. 2 job in state government — the official-in-waiting in case something happens to the governor. Both are traveling the state, trying to make inroads in areas far away from their deep south Louisiana voter bases.
They also continue to raise money so they can introduce themselves to voters via paid television and radio spots.
“They have to raise their name recognitions across the state,” Democratic political consultant Trey Ourso said. “Before it’s all over ... those guys are going to be duking it out trying to gain the other spot.”
Political analysts agree that Young has more work to do to make himself known because of Nungesser’s 2011 statewide campaign for lieutenant governor, as well as the high profile he had in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.
But they also note Young’s strong voter base coming out of Jefferson Parish — a parish much larger than the one Nungesser headed.
Young has the money edge, with $2.25 million to Nungesser’s $1.64 million — buoyed by a $500,000 personal loan.
“John is going to come after me. My goal is to get out there and meet as many people personally as I can,” Nungesser said.
Nungesser brags that he’s “not a polished politician” but works hard. He hopes voters will remember his role in reconstructing a parish decimated by Hurricane Katrina and more recently responding to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster off the coast of his parish.
As Katrina’s 10th anniversary approaches, Nungesser’s campaign is preparing for him to again be in the media spotlight.
Young said he’s well-positioned to win, with a broad base of fundraising support.
He also said he has the qualifications for the job based on educational experience, his record in bringing ethics reform and economic development to Jefferson, and seven years as an assistant district attorney and prosecutor.
“We are hitting every parish, not taking anything for granted,” Young said. “Obviously our media campaign has not kicked in.” He anticipates a boost when the commercials begin running statewide next month.
The lieutenant governor’s job has no incumbent because Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is running for governor. It has attracted interest from Holden, Nungesser, Young and Opelousas state Sen. Elbert Guillory, another Republican.
Guillory got a lot of local attention as an African-American elected official who switched to the GOP, but he is likely to be a nonfactor in the race because of a lack of campaign funding and name recognition.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, Kip’s a 10 and (Guillory) is a 1 in the black community,” said political analyst Bernie Pinsonat. “He can run, but he can’t compete.”
Fletcher, the Baton Rouge political strategist, agrees that any votes Guillory gets simply take away from the votes available to fellow Republicans Nungesser and Young.