Looking for one statistic to explain how this year’s governor’s race is shaping up?
The new Advocate/WWL-TV poll, rolled out all last week, offers a choice of them, from primary and runoff matchups to favorability ratings to questions on whether voters care if a candidate once voted to raise taxes (not so much) or has been linked to prostitution scandal (somewhat more so).
But the one number that best reflects the campaign’s overarching tone may have less to do with the current crop of gubernatorial hopefuls than with the office’s prior occupants.
Asked to rank the performance of Louisiana’s six most recent governors, 42 percent of the 800 voters interviewed deemed current Gov. Bobby Jindal the worst of the lot.
Jindal finished far ahead of his predecessor in this unenviable ranking; 24 percent picked Kathleen Blanco, who was followed by Edwin Edwards at 14 percent, Buddy Roemer at 5 percent, Mike Foster at 4 percent and Dave Treen at 3 percent. On the flip side, 31 percent of the survey’s respondents ranked Edwards as the best governor in recent years, followed by Foster at 21 percent, Jindal at 14 percent, Blanco at 11 percent, Roemer at 9 percent and Treen at 8 percent. The poll was taken Sept.20-23 by Clarus Research Group and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
That Jindal wins the “worst” competition is not exactly a revelation. His approval ratings have been in the ditch for a while now, and the poll found that 62 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him.
Nor is it surprising in historical context. Voters often voice fatigue at the end of a politician’s long run, and as a rule they survey the landscape for something different.
This happened after Edwards’ lengthy, on-and-off-again reign over Louisiana politics. Edwards was an unabashed gambling advocate, and the candidates in the 1995 election that followed his fourth term positioned themselves as gambling opponents. After eight years of Mike Foster, who was famously reluctant to jet off in search of economic development investment, the candidates to replace him pledged their eagerness to strap on their traveling shoes. Never mind that both issues faded from prominence once the polls closed.
This year the dynamic seems particularly acute, and the race sometimes sounds like a contest to see who can put the most distance between himself and the governor.
And so we have Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards arguing that if voters want a third Jindal term, they’ve got three choices — his three GOP opponents. Edwards also boasts of having opposed Jindal’s agenda back when the governor was still popular.
We have Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who misses no opportunity to remind voters that he and Jindal almost never talk.
We have GOP U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who frequently contrasts Jindal’s national aspirations with his own insistence that he has no ambitions beyond state lines.
And we have Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who has the trickiest task here, since he was a member of the Jindal administration and has been considered an ally. Vitter hit him on the connection at Thursday night’s WDSU debate, when the senator tried to deflect Angelle’s criticism of Vitter’s flip flop on the Common Core education standards.
It may be Vitter who has the bigger problem here, though. Vitter first strongly endorsed the school standards, then reversed course and cast himself as their most aggressive opponent. So, of course, did Jindal, and Vitter’s move smacks of the same sort of opportunism Jindal frequently displays.
There are other similarities too. Both are Rhodes Scholars, both can come off as sanctimonious and both have embraced a certain hard-edged partisanship. It’s possible that Vitter’s relatively high disapproval rating of 44 percent, and his inability to break from the pack despite early predictions he could, stem from a vague perception that he’s not so different from the governor after all.
The poll still pegs Vitter as likely to snag a runoff spot against Edwards, but it also shows him trailing in hypothetical runoffs against each of his main competitors. There are any number of possible explanations, including that prostitution scandal, which plenty of voters still seem to see as a turnoff.
But could it also be that people feel like they’ve seen this show before?