Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne on Tuesday became the final major gubernatorial candidate to launch his first TV ad, giving a decisive sign that the slow-starting campaign has now kicked into high gear.
With less than 40 days to the Oct. 24 primary, Dardenne’s ad re-introduces him to voters by saying he is not a Washington politician, knows how to bring people together and has never been tinged by scandal — all meant to indicate to viewers that he’s different than U.S. Sen. David Vitter, said George Kennedy, who is Dardenne’s media consultant. “We want to draw the contrast,” Kennedy added.
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle was the first to advertise on TV, in mid-February when he was barely known in Louisiana, with a spot portraying him as anti-abortion, a hunter and fisherman, and a leader of the oil and gas industry.
Vitter, the front-runner, has the biggest campaign war chest but waited until mid-August to launch his first TV ad. In it, he said he would repair Louisiana’s budget mess by eliminating waste — including thousands of vehicles in the state fleet — and promised he would turn around Louisiana’s schools.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, the only Democrat of the four major candidates, began airing his first TV ad 10 days ago. The 60-second spot shows pictures and video of him as a high school quarterback at Amite High School, a West Point cadet, a rifle-toting hunter with his son and a man at ease speaking to an audience.
All the candidates are on the air now after each man formally qualified for the race last week.
“Ads are important in at least two ways,” said Martin Johnson, a professor of political communication at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication. “Most people still get their information from television. In addition, the ads get talked about by people who pay attention to campaigns, such as journalists and fundraisers.”
A campaign will typically spend more of its money on TV ads than on anything else.
In the digital age, the candidates not only broadcast their ads on TV but also post them on their campaign websites, their Facebook pages and on their YouTube pages.
There’s also a new element in this year’s air war: spending by super PACs that receive huge contributions from big firms and the wealthy but are not supposed to coordinate their activities with the campaigns they support.
“This is the first election for state office where we’ve seen super PACs play as large a role or larger than the candidates’ own ads,” said Bob Mann, a colleague of Johnson at LSU who worked for Sen. John Breaux and Gov. Kathleen Blanco — both Democrats — and authored the 2011 book “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater and the Ad That Changed American Politics.”
Vitter’s super PAC, Fund for Louisiana’s Future, has attacked Dardenne and Angelle on taxes, giving strong evidence that Vitter wants to face Edwards in the runoff.
The super PAC ad is broadcasting a similar commercial that criticizes Dardenne for taking a $700 per month car allowance in public dollars, while Angelle voted for a resolution that opposed taking away 14 cars used by the Public Service Commission.
The ad doesn’t mention how much taxpayers pay for Vitter’s frequent airline trips to and from Louisiana and Washington.
Ryan Cross, Angelle’s campaign manager, said the PSC resolution was actually a message to Gov. Bobby Jindal that revenue from utility rates paid for the cars and that the money from selling them — as Jindal proposed — couldn’t legally go into the state’s operating fund. “None of the cars are driven by Scott or his employees,” he said.
Angelle’s super PAC, Louisiana Rising, is attacking Vitter for his position on the Common Core education standards — first Vitter was a supporter and now he opposes them — giving strong evidence that Angelle sees Vitter as the rival he must vanquish to make the runoff.
Meanwhile, a third super PAC, whose donors have not yet been identified, is running an ad that reminds voters of Vitter’s 2007 admission that he committed a “very serious sin” as a client of the “D.C. Madam” in Washington. The Vitter campaign believes trial lawyers are behind the PAC, called the Louisiana Water Coalition, that produced the anti-Vitter commercial that began airing Thursday.
“You see more negativity from the super PAC ads since the candidates want to distance themselves from putting out negative information,” Johnson said.
On Monday, Vitter’s campaign launched a 30-second spot that features a woman from Geismar crediting Vitter with helping her secure a liver transplant.
“I was dying. I was at death’s door stop,” Deborah Cazalot says in an ad that Vitter also broadcast during his successful 2010 Senate re-election campaign.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Cazalot said she had contracted hepatitis C and needed a ruling from the Social Security Administration to be eligible for Medicare and to have it cover the cost of a liver transplant. Cazalot said she sought help fruitlessly from other elected officials and an attorney before turning to Vitter’s office in Baton Rouge, which followed up promptly.
She got a hearing before the federal agency. A judge ruled her eligible for Social Security disability, Cazalot said, and she got a new liver in 2009 at age 62 when, she estimated, she had another three months to live.
“I know he’s made mistakes in the past,” said Cazalot, referring to Vitter. “We’ve all made mistakes. He’s the kind of person we ought to have in public office.”
Angelle and Edwards, Johnson said, “are demonstrating an appeal to women. They see that as vulnerability with Vitter. The issues in his past are presumably alienating voters, especially women.”
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.