WE TOLD YOU SO: Dardenne Won’t Run For The Senate

John Maginnis’ Daily Report entry contains the following bit of information which might be a surprise to some but not to us…

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne has ended two weeks of speculation about his running for the U.S. Senate race in 2014. “I’m not going to run for the U.S. Senate,” he tells LaPolitics. “This fell in my lap. I didn’t go out looking for it. So I’m not going to prolong the question any longer. I love what I’m doing and I will continue to do that for the balance of my term.”

Yeah, we knew that. From our piece on this last week…

But Dardenne has a pair of problems to overcome if he wants to become the Republican standard-bearer against Landrieu, and both involve a fellow Baton Rougean who wants that seat.

Namely, Cassidy. And primarily the fact that the Congressman has a war chest of $2 million already built in preparation for the race. That stash is federal money, an important distinction – Dardenne’s current war chest of $718,000 (as of last month) is a state campaign chest, which he can’t use for the Senate race. That would mean Dardenne would be starting from scratch and he’d be forced to mine much of the same capitol-area ground Cassidy has been mining in an effort to catch up to the Congressman.

But it’s not just money, and the occupation of many of the resources to raise it, that Dardenne might have trouble with. From John Maginnis’ latest dispatch at the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Daily Report

While Dardenne ponders, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, who has been quiet since he fired his political consultant Timmy Teepell, resurfaced in campaign mode this week. He showed up at the Republican State Central Committee meeting with his two new advisors, Jason Hebert and Scott Hobbs of The Political Firm.

Cassidy had been considered to be the big favorite to emerge as the GOP’s leading candidate for the seat all along, and particularly after the news hit that he’d hired Teepell. It was when Teepell and the Cassidy camp parted ways that all the new names – state sen. Conrad Appel, BESE member Chas Roemer, Boustany, Landry, Fleming and now Dardenne – began emerging.

But in bringing Hebert and Hobbs onto the scene, Cassidy would not only be getting two of the state’s best campaign gurus – TPF’s signature is on an astonishing number of electoral successes in Louisiana in recent years– but he’d also be robbing Dardenne of a big piece of his past winning team. Hebert was the general consultant for Dardenne’s successful runs in 2010 and 2011 for his current position; it might not be impossible for him to win without Hebert, but it could well be more difficult.

When Hebert started working for Cassidy, it was a really good indication Dardenne wasn’t in. And Cassidy’s campaign stash is $2.3 million, not $2 million – meaning Dardenne would be even further behind than you’d imagine.

Of course, there are people doing Dardenne’s analysis for him without his input. Jeff Sadow had this, one day after we told everybody what the score was…

Yet if the goal is to keep conservative Republicans in meaningful office (which, as lieutenant governor, given the almost nonexistent powers of the office, Dardenne currently does not occupy), even a mild conservative such as Dardenne might be the best fit for the Senate. At a practical level, Dardenne did have the best matchup against Landrieu. While the sampling frame of the poll overstated support for Landrieu, that does not matter in a comparison of Dardenne to other challengers listed, Cassidy and Fleming, at this time maximizing the party’s chances of sending her intro retirement.

A Dardenne candidacy also solves the problem of sacrificing an existing House member (if, as GOP elites hope, support coalesces early around one candidate as a de facto nominee), in the case of these two, to move on up to the Senate. The two districts involved, while to the advantage of Republicans, are the two among the state’s least in that quality except for the heavily-Democratic Second, held by a Democrat. In 2008, special circumstances in both cases arguably allowed both to win. And while 2014 does not appear likely to produce as unfavorable an environment as 2008 for Republican candidates, one never knows.

We even had a phone call earlier this week from one of our insider buddies at the Capitol who is not a fan of Dardenne’s but said there are lots of people thinking that he’s got to be the GOP’s candidate against Mary Landrieu not just because there are polls showing he’s got better name recognition than Cassidy or Fleming (which 20 months out from Election Day is pretty meaningless) but also because Dardenne would go to the Senate and pretty much vote with the Republican leadership every time and that’s better from the perspective that he’s a RINO who would be really dangerous if he was governor.

We’re not completely sold on the idea Dardenne is a RINO. Never have been. But you can find more conservative politicians in Louisiana than Jay; that’s without question.

If we were to accept the definition of Dardenne as a RINO, though, what based on recent history would suggest to you that a RINO is who beats Mary Landrieu? If you don’t want Dardenne as the governor because he’s a RINO but you’re OK with him as a Senator, that would indicate you think Louisiana’s conservative voters will turn out to put a RINO in office rather than a Democrat with seniority.

That didn’t work five years ago when the Republicans put John Kennedy up against Landrieu. Kennedy had been a Democrat the year before, and there were Republicans all over the state who wouldn’t support him. He got beat 52-48 in the same election cycle John McCain beat Barack Obama 59-41 in Louisiana – a seven percent bleed-off.

Which means if you want to beat Mary Landrieu, you’d better have somebody conservative voters can get excited about. Either Dardenne would have to excite those voters, and that could be doable, or what you end up with is Landrieu re-elected and Dardenne into the same 2015 gubernatorial field you want to keep him out of.

So that theory never really made a lot of sense, and it’s a pretty big piece of why Hebert is working with Cassidy – Dardenne could see the dynamics working a lot more in his favor for 2015, where his challenge would be to run “up the middle” between a projected David Vitter on the right and John Bel Edwards or Mitch Landrieu on the left, with Scott Angelle somewhere out there as well – but if Dardenne could get there and make the runoff with Vitter he’d be in a solid position to win.

Nothing much has changed in the dynamics either of the Senate race or the gubernatorial race the year after. It’s still likely a Cassidy-Fleming-Landrieu field for 2014 (with Fleming the “iffy” part of the equation) and a Vitter-Dardenne-Angelle-Edwards (or maybe Mitch Landrieu, though we doubt that) field for 2015. There are others out there who might wedge into the equation, like maybe Chas Roemer for the Senate or Mike Strain for governor, but for right now we’re going to stick with those predictions.

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