When Roger Villere, head of the Louisiana Republican Party, attached Nick Saban to Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, his goal probably was to give voters an image that would color how they processed the state’s second-highest official crossing party lines to endorse the Democrat in the Louisiana governor’s race.
His allusion is much wider than he probably intended.
True, the University of Alabama football coach is the most reviled man in Louisiana, even more so than Gov. Bobby Jindal and President Barack Obama. But he also has access to lots of money and to knowledgeable staffers. He built a system that overwhelms opponents.
Republican candidate David Vitter relied on similar elements that, at least on paper, looked like a sure winner, particularly in a state that hasn’t chosen a Democrat in statewide elections since 2008.
After 11 months of campaigning, however, the U.S. senator from Metairie, who has never lost an election, is running 8 to 12 percentage points behind a relatively unknown state representative from a town of about 15,000 people.
Campaign finance reports show Vitter has shot through much of a treasury that a few weeks ago was more than all the other candidates combined.
Over the past few days, Edwards has been out-raising Vitter. And Friday’s television buy reports show that Edwards’ supporters will run far more commercials than Vitter’s during the final week of the campaign.
Pollster Verne Kennedy wrote last week that “in the unlikely event Vitter wins,” it’ll be because of the quality of his campaign team. Unlike other pollsters, Kennedy is unwilling to crown Edwards just yet. His daily polls indicate Edwards’ lead is slipping — not a lot but steadily. He’s predicting a tight race on Saturday.
The revival of Vitter’s 2007 “serious sin” is only part of the reason. He’s also dealing with a lot of Republicans who have been angered over the years by Vitter’s pugilistic style.
Charlie Cook, the influential Washington, D.C., political handicapper, called the race a referendum on Vitter, which “he appears to be losing.”
Cook says Vitter appears to have lost white women in Louisiana. If these women vote for Edwards, the Democrat will win big. If they stay home, it’ll be closer.
Vitter’s team spent much of last week chanting “Kentucky,” where polls predicted a close Nov. 3 win for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. When ballots were counted, GOP candidate Matt Bevin won by 9 percentage points.
But before Louisiana Republicans hang a lot of hope on Kentucky, they should keep in mind a couple factors. First, only about a half-dozen polls were run in the Bluegrass State — and that’s almost the daily diet in Louisiana. Secondly, the polls failed to recognize how few voters (only 31 percent) would bother to actually cast ballots.
The Kentucky voters who bothered to go to the polls were energized by national issues, such as the jailing of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for defying a federal court order requiring that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Bevin was not a good candidate. But those things crystallized what was going on nationally, and the voters sent a message,” Roy Fletcher, a veteran political strategist, told a room full of GOP activists in Baton Rouge last week. As much as Vitter has tried to link Edwards to Obama, the Louisiana race has remained about local issues and character.
Also, unlike Kentucky, about half the voters in Louisiana are expected to turn out in Saturday’s general election, which is bad news for a weakened Republican candidate and a strong Democratic one, he added. (Fletcher worked on the campaign of one of Vitter’s GOP opponents.)
“There is a misconception that Louisiana is this a bright, bright red state,” Fletcher said. “Under the right circumstances, it’s much more purple.”
“If Vitter is having challenges in this race, it’s other issues. The Republican brand is very strong in Louisiana,” Jindal said Friday. He didn’t illuminate what the other issues might be, but it is well-known that he and Vitter don’t get along, and he isn’t going to endorse either candidate.
Still, it would be good for Democrats to remember state Rep. Stephen Ortego, the French-speaking millennial who a month ago had a double-digit lead over his GOP rival in a Carencro-based district that usually votes Republican. During the last 10 days before the Oct. 24 primary, out-of-state business and tort reform interests poured money into the race.
Ortego was excoriated in mailers that pretty much promised that a vote for him was a vote for thugs. Ortego lost to Republican Julie Emerson by 247 votes.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and, he is on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/