Gubernatorial contenders back State Police in New Orleans but other solutions need to be found _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Gubernatorial candidates, from left to right, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne participate in a forum hosted by Louisiana State Troopers Association at the Crown Plaza hotel Saturday. Retired La. State Police Chief of Staff Lt. Col. Mark Oxley, the event moderator, is in background.

There are three main messages out of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab’s new political poll.

One is to national voters, and it amounts to yet another cautionary note about Gov. Bobby Jindal and his presidential ambitions. The poll of 1,023 residents, including 879 registered voters, shows that the 59 percent of residents think Louisiana is headed in the wrong direction. That’s up from 45 percent in January, which suggests that the spring’s budget maneuverings, marked by gimmicks dictated by Jindal’s demands rather than long-term problem solving, left an understandably bad taste. Among registered voters, the “wrong direction” figure is 62 percent.

“Louisiana residents are more disgruntled now than at any point since we began tracking their mood about the direction of the state in 2003,” the poll’s release said, which is remarkable given that the period in question covers a trio of catastrophes, hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the BP oil spill.

The second message, this one to the four announced candidates to replace Jindal, is that the key to victory is convincing people that they’d set a very different path. Judging by the extent to which David Vitter, Jay Dardenne, John Bel Edwards and even former Jindal aide Scott Angelle are distancing themselves from the governor, it’s clear that they’d long since figured that out.

So the third message is to the voters who’ll go to the polls on Oct. 24: It’s time to start paying attention and figuring out just what these men are about, and how their administrations would differ from the outgoing regime.

Despite ongoing rumors of last-minute entrants, the current field has been set for many months now. Yet the poll found that voters don’t know much about any of the candidates save Vitter, who already holds the high-profile role of Republican U.S. senator.

Among self-described registered voters, Vitter is viewed favorably by 45 percent and unfavorably by 30 percent, the poll found. Twenty-four percent said they don’t know enough to have an opinion.

From there, the don’t-know-enough numbers soar.

Seventy-seven percent of voters couldn’t offer an opinion of Angelle, the Republican public service commissioner and former aide to both Jindal and Democrat Kathleen Blanco (the poll, which was taken between July 7 and Aug. 3, did not identify candidates by party and did not measure candidate preference). Eighteen percent gave him positive marks and 5 percent assessed him negatively.

Although he’s won statewide elections for secretary of state and lieutenant governor, 63 percent of voters said they couldn’t assess Republican Jay Dardenne. Twenty-nine percent of the voters polled said they like him, and 8 percent don’t.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, the only major Democrat in the race, was unfamiliar to 79 percent of the voters surveyed. Thirteen percent offered a favorable opinion, and 8 percent an unfavorable one.

So what’s the message for analysts out of all this? That as far as the public’s concerned, we’re in for a whirlwind of a campaign once Labor Day passes and qualifying starts.

Other than some introductory spots by Angelle, there’s really been no mass media advertising to date. That will change. Between the candidates and their affiliated super PACs, which are collecting unlimited contributions from deep-pocketed donors, the campaigns are sitting on a collective $14 million or so. Vitter’s got most of it, with more than $9 million between his campaign and super PAC; given his high name recognition, he gets to use it to emphasize his dislike of Jindal and counter the attacks that will surely come his way.

As for his opponents, they’ve really got no place to go but up.

That is, if they can get voters’ attention — something that this survey suggests is a distinctly uphill challenge.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.