Gov. Bobby Jindal provided no favors to David Vitter’s gubernatorial campaign when he announced Tuesday that he is suspending his candidacy for president.
U.S. Sen. Vitter is making a last-ditch effort to overtake his Democratic opponent, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, before Saturday’s election by tapping into public concerns that Syrian refugees might strike in Louisiana, following Friday’s bombings in Paris that set the public on edge here.
Vitter is airing a TV ad that ties Edwards to President Barack Obama’s decision to allow Syrian refugees to enter the United States and will be hop scotching the state Wednesday and Thursday to hit the issue in different media markets.
But for at least Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Jindal’s announcement becomes the top political story in Louisiana.
“It distracts voters from the issue Vitter wants them to focus on,” said Edward Chervenak, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans. “It’s a desperate time for the Vitter campaign. He needs to reverse the advantage that John Bel Edwards has.”
Every poll released in recent days shows Edwards leading the race, with most surveys putting the advantage at 10 points to 20 points.
James Carville, who helped guide Bill Clinton to the White House in 1992, agreed with Chervenak.
“It smothers the news cycle,” said Carville, who has hosted two fundraisers for Edwards. The timing “will help John Bel. When you’re behind, you need to win the news cycle. If you’re Vitter, the last thing you want is to see Bobby Jindal in the news.”
Chervenak released a UNO poll last week that shows Jindal with an unenviable unfavorable rating of 70 percent among likely voters and with two-thirds of them saying that the state is heading in the wrong direction. The poll also showed that Jindal’s critics are more likely to support Edwards than Vitter.
“Time is not on Vitter’s side,” said Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. “For John Bel Edwards, election day can’t get here soon enough.”
It appears that Jindal’s decision will continue to play out Wednesday. He has scheduled a news conference in the morning.
Questions will undoubtedly focus not only on the factors behind his decision to quit the presidential race and his plans during his remaining six weeks as governor but also his plan for the state’s gaping budget hole that must be closed soon.
After a lifetime working in either Louisiana or national politics, Carville knows all the tricks. He wondered whether Jindal’s announcement might be a deliberate effort to upstage Vitter since the two Rhodes scholars are known to be political rivals.
Indeed, it could be payback since Vitter, after a week of being silent, decided to appear before the press in Metairie on July 16, 2007 — with his wife Wendy by his side — to make his first public statement since news of his connection to the D.C. Madam broke. Vitter’s event shoved to the side Jindal’s announcement later that day that he was formally entering the governor’s race.
Now the shoe may be on the other foot in terms of the timing.
“I wonder if he didn’t do it now to mess with Vitter,” Carville said.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the governor’s race, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.