Incumbent Jay Dardenne topped challenger Billy Nungesser in the race for lieutenant governor — ending a bitter months-long Republican fight for the No. 2 job in state government.
Dardenne won re-election with 492,328 votes or 53 percent, to Nungesser’s 432,443 votes or 47 percent, according to complete but unofficial state election returns.
“I feel pretty confident with 53 percent to 47 percent, and with 97 percent of the vote in,” Dardenne said a few hours after the polls closed.
Nungesser, who is president of Plaquemines Parish, had the backing of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
Gov. Bobby Jindal did not endorse in the race.
There were few civil words in the campaign between the two men who dished out a steady diet of personal attacks in forums and in campaign commercials.
Dardenne said Nungesser was intent on “lying and buying” an election.
Nungesser called Dardenne “a liar and coward.”
As he campaigned, Dardenne said his knowledge of government gained from being a state senator, secretary of state and lieutenant governor, made him the best person for the job.
The lieutenant governor is the state’s tourism chief and legally first in line of succession to the governor.
Dardenne talked about saving money, increasing tourism jobs by 10,000 in the 10 months since taking office and his plans to better promote all the good things that are Louisiana.
Dardenne said Nungesser’s administration is under federal investigation related to hurricane recovery spending and claimed that while blasting BP, Nungesser was personally benefiting financially through a company he part owns.
Nungesser played upon his high-profile role as a critic of BP and federal government response in the wake of the BP oil disaster. He said he wanted to expand the lieutenant governor’s job to include coastal restoration and economic development — functions under the governor’s jurisdiction.
Nungesser questioned Dardenne’s conservative credentials and pointed to votes Dardenne cast as a state senator that he said proved he was no conservative on fiscal or other matters. He painted Dardenne as a career politician in it for personal gain “grabbing” a $30,000 pay raise.
Dardenne said Nungesser was “mischaracterizing” the situation. He said he had nothing to do with the pay raise which the Legislature approved for statewide elected officials. He was serving as secretary of state at the time it kicked in.
Dardenne turned the tables on Nungesser noting that he received a $28,000 annual pay raise as parish president this year. Dardenne asked why Nungesser did not veto it.
Nungesser said he earned the pay increase which had been approved by the parish council.
Nungesser, who has off-shore oil production-related businesses, started his second term as Plaquemines president this year. He won re-election with 71 percent of the vote.
Nungesser swelled his campaign war chest adding some $1.3 million in personal funds to more than $1 million in contributions.
Dardenne relied solely on individual campaign contributions, raising in excess of $1 million.
Most of the money in both camps was spent on TV ads.
Nungesser hammered Dardenne in the Baton Rouge media market hoping, he said, to peel away votes in Dardenne’s home area where he has polled strong in statewide elections.
There was little talk about state tourism promotion — the key legal duty of the $115,000 a year lieutenant governor’s job. Nungesser could not answer basic questions about the office in two separate forums.
The victory gave Dardenne, a lawyer, his first four-year term as lieutenant governor.
Dardenne had major state newspaper endorsements as well as support from the state tourism industry’s major groups and legendary LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman.
Nungesser’s diverse supporters included former U.S. Rep. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.
Dardenne won a special election last year when the office was vacated by Democrat Mitch Landrieu who became New Orleans mayor.
In that contest Dardenne beat out seven other candidates — including four other Republicans, one of them state GOP chairman Roger Villere.
Dardenne led the primary and beat Democratic political newcomer Caroline Fayard in a run-off election 57 percent to 43 percent.
Democrats failed to yield a candidate in the race this time around.
Facing fellow Republican opponents in his statewide election bids is not new for Dardenne. Former state GOP chairman Mike Francis ran when Dardenne, a then-state senator, won election as Louisiana’s secretary of state.