The Nungesser Debate-Ducking Flap (UPDATED)

Channel 2 in Baton Rouge is coming by in a little while to interview me about this business with Billy Nungesser and his decision to blow off tonight’s debate with Jay Dardenne at a Baton Rouge Pachyderms meeting (for either the 5:00 or 6:00 news tonight). Nungesser is also blowing off another debate with Dardenne at the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday, and with a lack of big news coming out of the statewide elections this fall we’ve now got ourselves a good controversy to feed off.

Harold and Joyce LaCour at the Pachyderms are good friends of mine and they’ve had me speak to them a few times, so I’m naturally going to be very protective of them and my default position is that you mess with them and I’m going to call you out on it. So obviously Billy has gakked it by screwing the Pachyderms over.

Nungesser’s camp says they had a conflict tonight; namely that he’s set for a charity foundation event in New Orleans. And that he can’t do the Press Club debate Monday because he’s got a fundraising lunch instead.

That’s problematic stuff, though. Because Harold told me they did a lot of work to find a date that would work for Nungesser – they don’t usually do Pachyderms meetings on Fridays – and got him to sign off on tonight’s debate before they even got Dardenne on board.

To back out citing a scheduling conflict the day before the event, then, looks horrible.

The immediate speculation will be that Nungesser is afraid of Dardenne. Backing out of not just one debate but two only reinforces such a perception.

Or if you don’t think that’s what’s going on, an alternative explanation is that Nungesser’s schedulers are goofballs and he can’t run an organized campaign. And if that’s the case, does he have the managerial skill to run the Lt. Governor’s office? Managerial skill is Dardenne’s strong suit as an elected official – even people who think he’s a RINO/career politician/whatever concede that with Dardenne you get a smooth-running office when he’s in the big chair.

So this is a loser for Billy on two potential fronts.

What this thing reminds me of, though I don’t know that it’ll have the same effect, is Hunt Downer’s ill-fated decision to ditch a televised forum last year that the Baton Rouge Tea Party and the Tea Party of Louisiana put on for the Republican congressional primary. That was an immediate disaster, as Downer brought the wrath of the Tea Party all over southeast and south-center Louisiana down on himself for making a last-minute cancellation, and what was expected to be a close race between Downer and Jeff Landry turned into a 65-35 rout in the latter’s favor in the GOP runoff, after Landry just missed getting to 50 percent in the first primary.

Will this debacle have a similar effect on Nungesser’s momentum? It’s impossible to say. But when you have $1.66 million on hand for a Lt. Governor’s race compared to your opponent’s $630,000 you don’t need a fundraiser event, and when you’re running for statewide office the charity folks will understand the importance of a debate as a reason to skip out on them (even though they’d be irritated at your scheduler just like Harold and Joyce are right now).

Dumb move.

I haven’t talked to Jason Hebert, who handles all of Dardenne’s media stuff, this morning, and I imagine I don’t have to. Hebert is in all likelihood going to say Billy’s obviously skeered and that he needs a dog a lot more than the Lt. Governor gig. Or that this just proves he’s not serious about the job, which Jay is. Or that it’s an example of why you want somebody reliable in this job, which Jay is.

And while a lot of that would be typical campaign-speak, guess what? He’s entitled to say it if he wants. Billy gave him the opening, and right now none of it looks wrong.

UPDATE: The Dardenne camp didn’t read this piece before putting out their release on all this, but they might as well have…

NUNGESSER BACKS OUT OF MORE DEBATES

Nungesser runs away from a fight he doesn’t think is worth fighting for.

It appears that the man who said he would never run away from a fight is running away from debating Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne. Nungesser will be a no-show at a debate he committed to hosted by the Greater Baton Rouge Pachyderms tonight. Nungesser’s campaign even got the chance to choose the date of the Pachyderm debate and agreed he would attend. In addition, Nungesser has backed out of appearing at a debate with the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday, September 26th. “It appears that Billy Nungesser has trouble keeping his commitment to discussing the issues important to the voters of the state,” said Jason Hebert, spokesman for the Dardenne Campaign. “How can voters take him at his word or expect him to be a fighter for the state when he runs away from debating Jay Dardenne,” Hebert said.

Meanwhile, Nungesser’s campaign has Sen. Vitter throwing a few missiles in a fundraising e-mail today…

I wanted to tell you about the exciting energy gaining in Billy Nungesser’s campaign for Lt. Governor. As you know, I support Billy 100 percent because I believe he is the only candidate that represents a true conservative reform agenda.

With only about a month left in the race, Billy just announced that he has more than 1.6 million in funds – doubling his opponent Jay Dardenne’s. That’s not to say Billy won’t need more help. His opponent is a darling of the liberal news media and will benefit from the free media attention. Billy needs to keep building on that financial advantage to have a chance at equal time to get his message out.

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