Both of the main undercard contests for statewide office — lieutenant governor and attorney general — have clear leaders, but the high percentage of voters who are undecided means those races are up for grabs.
The race for the state’s second-highest office, lieutenant governor, appears to pit the heads of local governments in the state’s two largest parishes: East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden, a Democrat, polled 25 percent, and Jefferson Parish President John Young, a Republican, came in at 23 percent, within the 3.46 percentage point margin of error in The Advocate/WWL-TV Statewide Voter Survey. The poll was conducted by Clarus Research Group of Washington, D.C.
But if balloting were today, 27 percent of the 800 registered voters who said they were likely to vote and were questioned between Sept. 20 and Sept. 23 said they “don’t know” any of the candidates or were “undecided” for whom they would vote.
Former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, a Republican, was favored by 20 percent of the voters questioned, and Opelousas Sen. Elbert Guillory, also a Republican, polled 5 percent.
Pollster Ron Faucheux said in his analysis that the last weeks of the campaign will determine the winner.
Election day is three-and-a-half weeks away, on Oct. 24, with early voting from Oct. 10 to Oct. 17.
As the only Democrat, Holden — who reported last week having about $87,000 available to spend on the race — is expected by many to be a frontrunner in the primary. He is expected to face one of the Republicans in the Nov. 21 runoff.
Holden’s largest support comes from black voters, 56 percent of whom support him; Democratic voters, at 45 percent; and voters living in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area, 46 percent. Young and Nungesser together have 31 percent of the voters’ support in and around Baton Rouge.
Young, who has $1.9 million to spend, benefitted from a heavy run of TV commercials and saw his numbers increase from the single digits reported by earlier polls. Nungesser had $620,000 cash on hand after spending $1.14 million during the past two months. As head of Plaquemines Parish government from 2007 to 2014, Nungesser was on national TV a lot talking about hurricanes, which strike that parish with regularity, and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which was off the parish’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2011, Nungesser failed in an attempt to unseat Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, receiving 46.9 percent of the vote. Dardenne now is running for governor, so his seat is open.
The Advocate/WWL-TV survey shows that Nungesser and Young dominate in the New Orleans metro area, but have split the vote. Young is favored by 33 percent of voters there, while Nungesser has 30 percent. Twenty-three percent of the voters in the New Orleans area back Holden.
Guillory made a name for himself, after being a Democrat for six years, when upon switching back to the Republican Party he posted a video calling the Democrats “the party of Jim Crow,” referring to laws that formerly restricted African-Americans in the South. He was interviewed by a number of nationally known conservative talk show hosts.
But Guillory has made little dent in the Louisiana electorate. His strongest supporters are in south Louisiana, where he comes from, but he trails all his opponents even there. In his latest campaign finance disclosure, Guillory reported just about $3,000.
Similarly in the race to be the state’s top lawyer, incumbent Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, a Republican from Tallulah, is leading the contest against four opponents, but only barely.
The Advocate/WWL survey showed he’s polling at 30 percent, which is only 2 percentage points more than the voters who say they “don’t know” or are “undecided.”
Former Congressman Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, has 20 percent of the vote, if the election were held today, according to the poll. And fellow Republican Marty Maley, a former assistant prosecutor who now practices law in the Baton Rouge area, drew 5 percent of the vote.
Two Democrats qualified and are drawing support: Ike Jackson, a former general counsel for the state Department of Natural Resources from Plaquemine, has 11 percent of the vote, and Geraldine “Geri” Broussard-Baloney, a former commissioner on the Pontchartrain Levee Board from St. John the Baptist Parish, has support from 5 percent of the voters polled.
Pollster Faucheux noted that while Caldwell holds a lead, his 30 percent of the vote is “low enough to be considered a danger sign for an incumbent.”
Caldwell is being squeezed from the left and the right.
A tea party favorite, Landry has positioned himself to the right of Caldwell, criticizing the attorney general for hiring outside lawyers to pursue litigation on behalf of the state and questioning the incumbent’s GOP bonafides.
Caldwell, who assumed office in January 2008 as a Democrat, switched to the Republican Party in 2011, prior to his first re-election bid. He was unopposed then.
The poll, however, shows he is leading his challengers among white voters and Republicans. He also scores well among males and voters between the ages of 18 and 54 — 32 percent for each demographic. Landry has the most support — 30 percent — in south Louisiana and is favored by 32 percent of the Republicans.
At least one of the Democrats question why Caldwell supported litigation to sidetrack President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Jackson has 25 percent of the black vote and 26 percent of the Democratic vote, according to the survey.
Landry has $1.4 million in cash on hand leading into the final weeks of the primary campaign, including $370,000 in new personal loans in the latest disclosure. Maley loaned his campaign $123,000 during the lateste reporting period — most of it going to buy TV ads.
Caldwell has $1.15 million, with no loans in the latest statement, though he loaned his campaign $200,000 in July.
Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog/.