Louisiana voters have finally had an opportunity to see a legitimate poll on the two most hotly contested statewide election campaigns. The survey commissioned by WWL-TV in New Orleans finds Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne with a fairly comfortable lead in his toe-to-toe, smash-mouth campaign against Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish.
Speaker of the House Jim Tucker has a narrow lead over Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who is seeking a full four-year term. Schedler became secretary of state because he was first assistant secretary when Dardenne vacated the office after being elected lieutenant governor in a special election last year.
Dr. Ron Faucheaux of the Washington, D.C.-based Clarus Research Group conducted the poll for WWLTV. He is a former Louisiana legislator, who is president of the company and its chief analyst. Clarus did a telephone survey of 602 scientifically selected likely voters Oct. 5-7. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus-4 percent.
Voters had been hearing from conservative bloggers and Nungesser’s campaign for a couple of weeks now that Dardenne could see his re-election slipping away and he was grabbing at straws to hang on. The poll demonstrates how far out of touch those comments were.
Clancy DuBos, political analyst for the TV station and columnist for the Gambit newspaper, said, “This poll shows the race is not nearly as close as the campaigning and attack ads would have you believe.”
The statewide results in the WWL-TV poll show Dardenne leading the lieutenant governor’s race by 13 points — 40 percent for Dardenne, 27 percent for Nungesser and 33 percent undecided. Faucheaux credits that lead to the fact Dardenne ran a statewide campaign last year and has the name recognition Nungesser doesn’t enjoy.
Dardenne leads 48 to 18 percent in the northern and central parts of the state because he is well-known in the Baton Rouge area and a 36 to 30 percent lead in the Acadiana/southwest region of the state. Nungesser has a 38 to 31 percent lead in the metro New Orleans area, his home base.
Dardenne is also the leader among Republicans, Democrats, independents and tea party supporters. He leads Nungesser 42 to 30 percent among white voters and 35 to 25 percent among black voters.
This corner of the state appears to hold the key to the final outcome. Faucheaux said there is a 34 percent undecided vote in the Southwest that makes it a “clear battleground.”
Dardenne led statewide in the special 2010 election primary 27.6 percent to 24.3 percent for Democrat Caroline Fayard and 19.3 percent for country music singer Sammy Kershaw. However, Kershaw was the leader in Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jeff Davis parishes.
Kershaw endorsed Dardenne in the general election when Dardenne defeated Fayard 57.1 to 42.9 percent. This time around, Kershaw is supporting Nungesser. Dardenne said early in the current campaign that is because he wouldn’t give Kershaw a job after he took office.
Nungesser is probably going to gain support in this area because of Kershaw’s popularity in the region. Dardenne will have to convince Southwest Louisiana voters that he is the best choice.
Tucker, the outgoing House speaker because he is term-limited, leads Schedler 25 to 20 percent statewide in the secretary of state race. The biggest factor in this one is the large 55 percent undecided vote because of the lack of name recognition in both camps.
“This race is really yet to be fought and yet to be won,” Faucheaux said. “That means anything could happen in this race in the last week or two.”
Schedler is the leader in Southwest Louisiana, leading Tucker 23 to 20 percent with 57 percent undecided. Tucker is the leader in the metro New Orleans, north Louisiana and Baton Rouge areas. He is also the leader among Democrats, Republicans and tea party supporters. He and Schedler tied among independent voters.
Faucheaux said the candidate who closes the strongest in the last week of the campaign has the best chance to win the secretary of state contest.
“Either candidate can win this race,” he said.
Polls aren’t the final answer, of course, but they do serve as a barometer for campaigns at the times they are taken. This one is timely, has credibility and offers direction for all of the candidates involved.
Dardenne and Nungesser are scheduled for a number of forums and face-to-face meetings between now and the Oct. 22 primary. Undecided voters can learn a lot about how they handle tough situations and determine which of the two would be the state’s best ambassador and spokesman.
Culture, recreation and tourism are the lieutenant governor’s most important responsibilities, other than being ready to become the next governor, if necessary. Dardenne has performed well in all of those areas during his brief tenure.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].