This year’s race for governor is shaping up as a repeat of 2007 — no contest. Four years ago the key question was whether anyone could force Republican Bobby Jindal into a runoff.
They could not. Jindal carried 60 of 64 parishes and 54 percent of the vote to win in the primary.
This year the key question is whether the Louisiana Democratic Party can find a credible contender to challenge Jindal.
More than a month ago Buddy Leach, chairman of the party, insisted Democrats remain viable in Louisiana. He listed a dozen or so potential candidates without putting any in specific races.
Veteran state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete, was one of those mentioned.
So was political newcomer Tara Hollis, a schoolteacher who lives in Haynesville, a Claiborne Parish town in northwest Louisiana.
Whether either will file for governor is unclear, at least for the time being. Whether either would be considered a serious challenger is debatable. Both would be heavy underdogs.
And it is a sign of Democrats’ fortunes that the only contenders under serious discussion would barely rate a mention if any big names were willing to get in.
In 2007 there was only the appearance of a race for governor, not a real contest.
Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish, Walter Boasso, of Arabi, and John Georges, of New Orleans, campaigned, spent money on television ads and did some traveling.
They blasted Jindal, demanded he share a debate stage with them and vowed to force a runoff. Then-state Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington all but guaranteed Jindal would be unable to wrap up things in the primary. Yet Jindal jumped to a huge, early lead, stuck to his script and coasted to victory.
Four years later Democrats are in even more disarray. The party that essentially ran Louisiana for most of the 20th century is reeling. Republicans occupy all seven statewide offices. The GOP won control of the Legislature earlier this year for the first time since Reconstruction.
Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Democrat, was blasted last year when he challenged U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican incumbent who was supposed to be vulnerable.
Vitter won by 19 percentage points, which also shed light on why other Democrats were unwilling to take on Vitter.
After more than three years as governor, Jindal has his critics. They say he is out of state too much, preoccupied with national ambitions and too willing to preside over major budget cuts to higher education and other state services.
What the governor does not have, at least so far, is a credible challenger who has spelled out his or her version of where the state needs to be, and how to get there.
In 2007 top Democrats thought that was former U. S. Sen. John Breaux, who all but got in the race, then changed his mind.
That reinforced the view that is taking shape again: top Democrats are unwilling to get in because they do not think they can win.
Blame it on money. Blame it on the national party. Blame it on a late start.
The bottom line is the same — an unwillingness to take on Jindal with a plan and a real chance of winning.
Filing for office runs from Sept. 6 to Sept. 8. The primary election is Oct. 22. Yet at this point Democrats are rallying around a bunch of what-ifs.
Maybe someone will come out of nowhere. Maybe Jindal will get tripped up in a scandal.
Maybe 2011 will be different from 2007, when what was supposed to be a race for governor turned into anything but that.
“The party is far from being over,” Leach said June 27.
He is right. There will be names other than Jindal on the Oct. 22 ballot for governor.
Whether it represents a political race, or just another mirage, remains to be seen.
Will Sentell reports for the The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.