Bad news for liberals: Louisiana’s next governor will be a conservative on social issues, no matter who wins.
The only uncertainty — days before Saturday’s primary election — is how conservative he will be on such issues as abortion, guns, same-sex marriage and defunding Planned Parenthood.
Two of the Republican candidates — U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle — tilt far right on these issues. Vitter, though, gets the highest rating from the National Rifle Association — an A+ — and has the endorsement from the National Right to Life Committee, the country’s largest anti-abortion group.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, another Republican, would qualify as a conservative elsewhere, but he’s looked upon with suspicion by social conservatives in Louisiana for not being enough of a true believer.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, the lone Democrat, is likely to find the least favor among social conservatives in Louisiana, but he leans to the right compared with Democrats nationally.
Bob Reid, a founding board member of the Tea Party of Louisiana, said as many as 60 percent of Christian conservatives will base their decision for governor on these issues.
John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge-based pollster, offered a more modest estimate that 10 percent of all voters in Louisiana will choose their candidate solely on where he stands on abortion and same-sex marriage.
“Louisiana is a socially conservative state, and that spans party lines,” Couvillon said. “It’s assumed in Louisiana that if you’re running for office, you ought to be pro-life and pro-guns, if you want to win elections.”
The last Democratic governor, Kathleen Blanco, was anti-abortion and knew how to handle a rifle.
Today, three leading African-American state legislators — Rep. Regina Barrow, of Baton Rouge; Rep. Katrina Jackson, of Monroe; and Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, of Baton Rouge — all oppose abortion, an unlikely scenario elsewhere.
Americans United for Life has ranked Louisiana as the most anti-abortion state in the country during the past four years, a position championed by outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal. His successor seems unlikely to do anything to change that position.
All four candidates for governor scored a 100 percent mark from the Louisiana Right to Life Federation on a questionnaire that asks, among other things, whether they support overturning the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and whether they oppose abortions under all circumstances except when the life of the mother is threatened.
In another measurement, Dardenne scored 62 percent during his 15 years as a state senator, running afoul of the anti-abortion group for votes against its position on bills involving embryonic stem cell research. (Angelle has never had to vote on an abortion issue.)
Vitter has scored a 100 percent mark from the national group on 74 abortion-related votes since he went to Washington in 1999, while Edwards rated 100 percent for 28 votes in the state House during the past eight years.
Reid is skeptical about Edwards’ commitment.
“Edwards may say he’s against abortion, but he’s aligned with a particular party that has solely sold out to abortion,” he said.
The Rev. Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum and a leading Christian conservative, casts a more approving eye.
He noted that Edwards broadcast a TV ad earlier this month in which his wife, Donna, said a doctor recommended an abortion after an ultrasound found that she was pregnant with a child who would have spina bifida, a problem with the spinal cord. The couple decided to have the baby, their daughter Samantha. She is getting married next spring.
“It’s a very powerful ad,” Mills said. “I think he has gained a lot of respect from the pro-life community.”
“Louisiana is going to stay in a more traditional, socially conservative position, and I think that’s being echoed by the candidates, who also recognize that fact,” Mills said.
All four men have expressed their support for gun rights. During the WDSU-TV debate earlier this month, Vitter, Angelle and Dardenne said they are members of the NRA, while Edwards said he belongs to the Florida Parishes Skeet and Gun Association in his home area.
Angelle, Vitter and Edwards all spoke fondly of hunting animals. “If you have an opportunity to teach your boy how to hunt, you won’t have to hunt for your boy,” Angelle said. “It’s a great cliché down the bayou.”
None of the four men support same-sex marriages. But Vitter and Angelle took a harder line when asked at the WDSU debate whether they backed the decision by the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court ruled that gay couples had the right to marry.
Edwards said the Supreme Court settled the issue.
“My personal religious views are — informed by my Catholic, Christian faith — that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Edwards said. “But we’re not free to ignore that decision.”
Dardenne called for a “balancing act” and a “tolerance involved on both sides of this issue.”
In that same debate, Vitter, Angelle and Dardenne called for the state to cut off its funding for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast — which gets nearly $300,000 a year to provide clinical breast exams, Pap smears and tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases for about 5,000 poor women at offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
The issue flared following the release of videos by an antiabortion group that seemed to show Planned Parenthood officials speaking cavalierly about fetal tissue donations. Officials with the group have said the videos were heavily edited to distort the comments.
“I’ve been fighting to defund Planned Parenthood for years before these videos surfaced,” Vitter said.
Edwards called the videos “disturbing” but said, before the state cuts off funding, he wants the results of an investigation and to be sure that other clinics can handle their patients.
Mark Ballard, of The Advocate Capitol news bureau, contributed to this article. Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the governor’s race, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.