Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor

Until recently, it appeared that Louisiana was going to have a comparitively boring election year.  Oh sure, there are going to be two interesting congressional races, but Sen. David Vitter is unopposed  [Oh, what’s that?  Charlie Melancon is running against him?  That’s right — I keep forgetting about him.] essentially unopposed.

Anyway, this fall’s elections are about to get a lot more interesting.

On February 6, New Orleans voters will vote to elect a new mayor.  It now appears likely that Mitch Landrieu will win, either next Saturday or (more likely) in a runoff a month from now.  When that happens, Gov. Jindal will appoint a temporary replacement and there will be a new Lt. Governor’s election on Oct 2, with a runoff on Nov 2.

You may ask, “What’s the big deal about Lt. Governor?  Isn’t his only responsibility to run the state tourism office?”

What will supercharge this race is the fact that Gov. Jindal is at the top of every list as a Vice-Presidential candidate in 2012.  Jindal is running for reelection in 2011 and isn’t going to run for President in 2012, but the odds are very high that he will asked to join the ticket.  And with our current national environment, it certainly appears that the GOP ticket will have a very good chance against Obama/Biden in 2012.

If Jindal were to become Vice-President, the Lieutenant Governor would take over and would be Governor for the three remaining years of Jindal’s term.  That’s why this race is a big deal.  The idea to abolish the post would take 2/3 of each house in the legislature, and that’s simply not going to happen — there will be an election.

With that in mind, who are the contenders?

  1. Secretary of State Jay Dardenne.  Dardenne will almost certainly run and will be perceived as the favorite.  He had been considering a primary challege to Vitter this year and passed on that largely because of this opportunity.  According to his last annual campaign finance report, he had $272,000 in the bank at the beginning of 2009.   He’ll have to file a new report soon, and I would expect it to show him with over $400,000 in the bank.  Even though that may not seem like a large sum, Dardenne is a proven fundraiser and can raise a lot quickly.  Dardenne made a name for himself as a reformer during the Edwards era, but his voting record as a whole is definitely that of a “mainstream” or “moderate” Republican.  Dardenne might fare well in a runoff, but the danger for him is getting squeezed from the right and the left and failing to make the runoff.
  2. State Treasurer John Kennedy.  Kennedy still has relatively high name recognition in the wake of his unsuccessful campaign against Mary Landrieu in 2008.  He had $524,000 in his state campaign account at the end of 2008 and likely has more now.  He’s been getting a lot of good press for his role in the Streamlining Government Commission, especially for his push for the state to lay off 15,000 workers.  Kennedy ran as a conservative in 2008, but Landrieu repeatedly blasted him as a “confused politician” for his previous life as a liberal.  If he runs, expect this site to get cranked up again.  Kennedy’s bigger problem, though, is that he lost in 2004 and 2008 when he tried to move up from his present position; he can’t afford to lose again if he ever wants to be anything more than State Treasurer (as he clearly does).
  3. Family Research Council Director Tony Perkins.  Tony Perkins has been FRC Director for over six years, and it may be time for him to throw his hat into the ring again.  Perkins would certainly be able to raise the money necessary to be competitive, and he’s run statewide before.  Louisiana is more conservative than it’s ever been, and the political environment right now is ideal for a genuine conservative like him.  Since social conservatives would immediately rally behind him, he could focus his campaign on economic issues.  If Perkins doesn’t run, conservatives will find someone to rally behind, but the odds of success will be lower.
  4. Whoever Jindal Picks.   This assumes that Governor Jindal doesn’t punt by simply picking a caretaker who pledges not to run for a full term — a viable option that avoids political risk and one that he is considering.  If he doesn’t choose to go that route, the new interim Lieutenant Governor would have the powerful advantages of incumbency and the governor’s support.  If he were to lose, however, it would be a serious blow to Governor Jindal’s prestige and political power.  On the other hand, if he wins, it would greatly strengthen Jindal’s ability to leave Louisiana in 2012, knowing that the state would be led by someone he trusts.  If he decides to pick someone who intends to run for the seat, he has to pick a winner.

I’m ultimately dismissive of Democratic prospects to win the race.  State Senate President Joel Chaisson would start the race without any statewide name recognition, and his annual report at the end of 2008 only showed $64,000 in the bank.  Sharon Weston Broome would boost her profile with a strong campaign, but she is no threat to actually win.  As for Kathleen Blanco, who happens to have $2 million in the bank, I wouldn’t care if she had $20 million or $200 million — it wouldn’t work.  If the Democrats unite behind one candidate, that candidate could make a runoff, but would likely lose there.  Even if the Democrats had a strong candidate, conservatives are likely going to turn out in force on November 2nd and give David Vitter a 60-40 victory.  Except in the 2nd Congressional District, Democratic turnout is going to be very low, and conservatives are energized as never before.  A Republican will win this race, and that will mean that every statewide elected official except Mary Landrieu will be a Republican — shocking for anyone who remembers the Louisiana of 20 years ago.

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