All Kinds Of Stuff Going On In Lt. Governor’s Race

Of course, the latest news from the campaign trail is that incumbent Jay Dardenne has now opened up a 13-point lead over Billy Nungesser in the latest poll on the Lt. Governor’s race…

Incumbent Jay Dardenne has a double-digit lead over his challenger in the lieutenant governor’s race, while Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s opponent has a slight edge in that competition.

That’s according to the results of a new independent poll commissioned by WWL-TV in New Orleans.

For lieutenant governor, 40% of those polled by Washington-based Clarus Research Group said they would most likely vote for Dardenne, while 27% choose Billy Nungesser, the Plaquemines Parish president. Thirty-three percent were undecided, with fewer than two weeks left before the Oct. 22 election.

Dardenne’s lead expanded from just two points in our own Hayride/JMCEL poll done two weeks ago.

Democrat political analyst Ron Faucheux, a former chief of staff to Sen. Mary Landrieu who heads up Clarus Research, told the Times-Picayune tonight that Nungesser is on the ropes…

Faucheux said Dardenne enjoys a 40 percent to 27 percent lead over Nungesser among voters polled while 33 percent remain undecided.

The poll shows Dardenne, a former state senator and secretary of state who has been the No. 2 elected official for 10 months, leading Nungesser in most demographics: 42 percent to 30 percent among men, 39 to 24 among women, 42 to 28 among white voters and 35 to 25 among African-Americans.

Faucheux, a former state legislator, said that among voters who have made up their minds, Dardenne polled 59.7 percent to Nungesser’s 40.3 percent. “Dardenne is clearly the favorite here,” Faucheux said. “For Nungesser to have a chance to win, it would take a combination of a lot of things.

“He would have to peel votes off of Dardenne, and that’s not going to be easy to do, and beat Dardenne decisively among independent voters, and that’s not going to be easy to do.”

The candidates are preparing for a debate set for Thursday in Baton Rouge put on by the League of Women Voters at noon in the Audubon Room at Drusilla Place, 3482 Drusilla Lane. They’re working the campaign trail feverishly at present.

And then there are the celebrity endorsements. Dardenne has Skip Bertman in his corner…

…while Nungesser has Kevin Costner…

And this race isn’t complete without a nasty attack ad…

Meanwhile, Nungesser uncorked an attack of his own this afternoon which hit Dardenne for what the challenger’s camp says was a moral/ethical transgression from back in 1993…

A complaint against John “Jay” Dardenne has been filed with the Louisiana Bar Association’s Disciplinary Counsel after information has been confirmed that Mr. Dardenne had an inappropriate relationship with a women from Baton Rouge, represented her in a lawsuit surrounding an automobile accident after the relationship ended and then refused to pay her the awarded damages after the final decision in the case was handed down.

In researching for this campaign, information was found about Mr. Dardenne.  Mr. Dardenne has tried to hide this relationship for years.  It is unethical that he represented her in a court of law after ending their affair, but the fact that he never distributed to her the damages she was awarded shows his true character.  This woman has wanted to file this complaint for years, but has been bullied and threatened by Mr. Dardenne to remain silent so that his political career was not tainted.  It is time for the real Jay Dardenne to be introduced to Louisiana.

The complaint was made by Kent Gates, a political consultant working with the Nungesser campaign, and it’s the second communication to the authorities made by Gates against Dardenne during the campaign – the first being a complaint last week to the state Ethics Board on a host of issues surrounding what Gates called a “blurring of the lines” between Dardenne’s official capacity and his campaign.

Today’s letter to the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel, which can be seen in PDF format here, is a lot saltier. It alleges an affair between Dardenne and a woman named Mary Jennings in or around 1993, and that Dardenne represented Jennings in a personal injury case while that affair was going on without disclosing the relationship to the court (for quite obvious reasons), and that Dardenne essentially stole a $14,000 judgement from Jennings – and further that Dardenne had associates pressure Jennings into shutting up about the whole thing for essentially 18 years.

We discussed these allegations with Gates this evening, and he further implied that the alleged Dardenne-Jennings affair involved an abortion – Gates phrased that allegation as saying there were events in that relationship which call into question how pro-life Dardenne really is.

Gates also said that the Mary Jennings issue had surfaced in the past but that he couldn’t speak to why it had never become a major issue in Dardenne’s previous campaigns. Dardenne ran successful state senate campaigns in 1995, 1999 and 2003, was elected Secretary of State in a special election in 2006 and re-elected in 2007, then won the Lt. Governor position in a highly-contested special election last year which involved eight primary candidates and a big-money runoff with Caroline Fayard. In six races Mary Jennings has never been a significant electoral stumbling block for Dardenne.

Perhaps that will change with Nungesser pushing the issue. We can’t speak to the truth of Gates’ allegations; we’ve never heard of Mary Jennings and without her coming forth in public to make or support the allegations it’s tough to assess them one way or the other. But putting our political analyst hat on, the Jennings Affair seems to be of dubious value – for two reasons.

First, as we mentioned above there have been six campaigns Dardenne has been in since this alleged affair took place and none of them involved these allegations in any significant way. That indicates Dardenne’s past opponents – including last year’s crop who took a significant number of shots at Dardenne – never thought they were of political use. The response is apparently that Jennings was pressured to shut up for all these years, but that’s a little difficult to assess; Dardenne has hardly been omnipotent in Louisiana politics for the last 18 years. It’s also worth mentioning that allegations centering around sex and marital infidelity, etc., don’t tend to animate this state’s voters.

And second, an allegation from 1993 made against Dardenne makes one think that Nungesser’s campaign is engaging in a very thorough opposition research project. And given that impression, one wonders why the Nungesser camp hasn’t uncovered something more current and, arguably, more relevant to the job Dardenne currently holds. He was Secretary of State for four years and has been Lt. Governor for going on one – surely there’s something out there which can be offered to the public as evidence of his current lack of fitness for statewide office, no?

And if not, then it could be an indication that even if Dardenne was a dirty SOB in 1993, terrible though that might be, that he’s pretty good at his job now.

That’s obviously for the voters to decide. But one thing which seems obvious with these intraparty squabbles disguised as statewide general election races is that they tend to be a fast race to the bottom where very little relevant to the functions of the office being sought is actually discussed.

But with just 11 days standing between the candidates and the voters, we’ll find out whether Messrs. Bertman and Costner are persuasive, whether old sex-scandal allegations move the needle, whether Thursday’s debate – which promises to be a doozy – is a factor in the race and whether Nungesser’s superior war chest can dislodge Dardenne’s incumbency.

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