Every fall a team or two reaches the heights of college football rankings by running up the score on a bunch of weak opponents.
That real fans of the game look askance at winning under those circumstances is not lost on Team Jindal.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is sitting on a $7 million campaign chest, is heading into his Oct. 22 re-election race with the prospect of thrashing nine challengers who have raised $40,000 combined, according to campaign finance disclosures released Thursday.
“That’s why I’m a fan of SEC football,” Jindal’s top adviser, Timmy Teepell, said Thursday. “When you play football, you want to play against the best teams.”
Teepell, whose mantra is that the Jindal campaign takes nothing for granted, said he would have preferred the challenge of a strong opponent. Instead, the race becomes Jindal against the expectation of perfection.
That’s one reason why so many of the recent opinion polls show chinks in Jindal’s armor — a drop in favorability ratings here, a slide in re-elect numbers there — that Teepell says don’t truly exist.
Many variables can skew poll results one way or the other, Teepell said. It’s how questions are worded and in what order they are asked. It’s the lack of a comparison with a well-known, well-financed challenger, he said.
“So, the focus is on, ‘What are the things I don’t like about Bobby?’ ” Teepell said. “When it’s Bobby against another guy, it becomes who is better to build the economy? ... Whom do we trust to tackle the big problems? Who is going to be most effective?”
John Georges, the multimillionaire New Orleans businessman who came in a distant third to Jindal in 2007, says the polls that he commissioned show Jindal’s “favorability” ratings — the percentage of people who recognize his name and like him — declined from the 60 percent range to the 40s.
“Why do you think his numbers cratered? The economy,” said Georges, a lifelong Republican who left the party to run against Jindal in 2007 and later registered as a Democrat.
Georges’ most-recent polling indicates an unusually high worry among voters about their jobs, which translates into vulnerability for incumbents. Jindal, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and other Republicans are constantly pointing at President Barack Obama, so that voters don’t blame them in the voting booth, he said.
Georges notes that when Jindal won outright in the 2007 primary, he polled fewer actual votes than any other winning gubernatorial candidate since 1987, when incumbent Gov. Edwin W. Edwards withdrew after challenger Buddy Roemer got about 81,000 more votes in the primary.
“His big promise was ethics,” Georges said. “But he wouldn’t pass transparency for his own office. You don’t know what he’s doing during the day. You don’t even know what state he’s in.”
Still, says Georges — who earlier this month flirted with and decided not to challenge Jindal — the governor has an air of invincibility. Jindal has spent more than $50 million in an almost-perpetual campaign since he first ran for office in 2003, Georges said.
“We have all drunk the Jindal Kool-Aid,” he said.
Teepell said his polls, which he won’t show the public, peg Jindal with a higher “favorability” rating than the polls the governor’s opponents have publicly released. There has been a slide, but that’s not particularly surprising, he said.
Nearly every Louisiana adult these days knows who Jindal is, which inflates the calculation that compares name recognition to likeability.
Plus, Jindal’s high likeability numbers came at a time when the governor had more black support, Teepell said. Many of those black voters dropped away when the governor criticized Obama’s health-care program and oil drilling policy, he said.
What all the surveys show — regardless of the pollster — is that about 30 percent to 35 percent of the electorate would vote against the governor regardless of who is opposing him.
But the only number that is important is zero.
That’s how many so-called serious candidates signed up to challenge Jindal. That gubernatorial referendum renders the rest of poll findings merely interesting conversation over dinner.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.