It’s a good thing Louisianians like politics as much as they do.
Because here we are, barely a week into the new year and just one month past the last big showdown between Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu for U.S. Senate, but already the 2015 governor’s race is hopping.
Remember how long voters had to wait to see Cassidy and Landrieu debate? There’ll be none of that this time around.
The gubernatorial primary may be 10 months away, but the first face-to-face debate among all four major announced candidates — U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and state Rep. John Bel Edwards — is happening this week, Friday in Baton Rouge before the American Council of Engineering Companies and several other trade groups.
The topic, transportation and infrastructure, isn’t the sexiest, but it goes to the heart of the biggest challenge that will face Bobby Jindal’s successor — how to pay for important needs after years of budget cuts and short-term fixes. The event also will offer the first glimpse into how the candidates, particularly Republicans Vitter, Dardenne and Angelle, will attempt to stand out from one another.
The endorsements are starting to dribble out as well, including one from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Vitter’s behalf.
In a fundraising letter, Christie lauded Vitter for being a “no-nonsense” conservative leader and — in an echo of Cassidy’s main Senate campaign theme — an aggressive opponent of pretty much anything President Barack Obama supports. He also claimed Vitter, who has been in one public office or another since 1991, isn’t a career politician, which is more of a commentary about the sad state of political rhetoric than about the senator’s qualifications.
The alliance suggests several things: That Vitter — who once endorsed Rudy Giuliani, another tough-talking northeasterner with more centrist views on social issues — is hoping to make inroads with moderates, and perhaps with a future president. And that Christie, who has not announced his plans for 2016, is looking for southern allies in case he runs. Compounding the intrigue is the fact that Christie is said to have a strained relationship with Jindal, his predecessor as head of the Republican Governors Association and a possible rival for the GOP nomination. So, as everyone here knows, does Vitter.
Then there’s the money.
Start with the reality that Vitter’s affiliated super PAC already has plenty of it. The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, which is not supposed to coordinate with the campaign, just hired trusted Vitter aide Joel DiGrado, who recently steered Cassidy’s victory, according to Jeremy Alford of lapolitics.com. Vitter has moved $840,00 from his Senate fundraising account into the PAC, which reported a balance of $2.7 million last month. That’s not counting Vitter’s official campaign account, which will have to report its fundraising total next month.
Angelle, a relative late entrant in the race, told Alford he’ll report more than $1.5 million raised — with the help of Jindal’s top fundraiser, who’s on board with his campaign — while Edwards said he’ll have $1 million or so. Dardenne has yet to disclose numbers.
The bottom line, though, is that the airwaves could again be flooded with campaign ads sooner rather than later.
Edwards, for one, isn’t waiting to get his name out there. The Amite Democrat has started buying up billboards in New Orleans, which, of course, is home to the biggest block of Democratic voters. It also just happens to be the home of the biggest-name Democrat who might still decide to jump into the race, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Landrieu, of course, has been elected twice statewide, as lieutenant governor, and doesn’t have to worry about people figuring out who he is. He made a number of campaign stops around Louisiana for his sister’s failed Senate race, which also gave him the chance to renew old acquaintances and test the waters for himself.
Which just goes to show that, as quickly as the race is getting started, there may still be plenty of twists and turns ahead in 2015.