The top-line result in the new poll from the LSU Public Policy Research Lab sounds right: People are paying little or no attention to the race for governor.
Maybe a bit surprising, given that qualifying is Sept. 8-10 and the primary election is Oct. 24. No less than four major candidates for governor are beating the bushes, especially for money, but this is for Louisiana an uncharacteristically slow political season. One can recall races that were hotter than this on the Labor Day one full year before qualifying.
The question is not whether it will heat up after Labor Day, as it surely will for candidates not only for governor but other offices, state and local. There’s an open seat for mayor in Lafayette Parish, for example, and those races help drive interest and usually turnout of voters.
But the question is whether it’s going to be really hot, scorching the incumbent officeholders who have been part of the largely failed policies of the unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal. He is not on the ballot because of term limits but his backers are, including many members of the generally Jindal-compliant Legislature.
For most of the year, few incumbents seemed to be in danger, despite the governor’s unpopularity. Some of them put distance between themselves and Jindal by voting against him on some key tax and budget votes this year; others turned thumbs down on key Jindal priorities, such as the so-called “religious freedom” bill.
But lawmakers seeking reelection, with rare exceptions, appeared not to face difficult races. One exception is District 66 in south Baton Rouge, where Rep. Darrell Ourso was elected in March to fill a vacancy. After a session of tough votes, he was bound to face a race, and does.
There are a few vulnerable members around the state who might have a reputation for losing touch with their districts, or suffer from a personal failing such as a messy divorce. Those last are happily rare.
A few members are targeted by party operations, such as Rep. Stephen Ortego, of Carencro, a Democrat facing a Republican challenger with GOP party connections.
Even if challenged, incumbents have advantages and may not necessarily lose. But one of the findings of the LSU poll shows that the overall environment for incumbents may have shifted lately, and not in a good way.
Among self-identified registered voters, 62 percent said the state is heading in the wrong direction, and only 25 percent said Louisiana is on the right track. That is sharply down this year from January.
“There is a huge negative shift in perceptions about the direction of the state since we last asked this question in January,” pollster Michael Henderson said. “This is the highest ‘wrong direction’ number we have ever seen for this question in any of our polling going back to 2003.”
While one can speculate about the causes for this — a slump in oil prices probably hurts, severely, in the oil patch — a “wrong track” reading that low should concern incumbents. If you are a legislator who voted for business taxes this year, a challenger can hit you two ways — as a tax-and-spender and as the guy who helped Bobby Jindal slash the budget of LSU, or McNeese, or other local institutions.
Maybe a big legislative turnover is not in the offing, but the LSU poll gives us something to think about.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.