Dardenne’s 2015 Campaign Is Off And Running

He’s not officially on the books as a candidate to succeed Bobby Jindal as Louisiana’s governor in the 2015 election cycle, but Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne might as well admit it.

After all, when you’re actively chasing big-money donors, you’re running. And probably not for re-election as Lt. Governor.

Dardenne, whose latest campaign finance disclosure from back in February had him with $718,000 in his war chest, has been holding fundraisers at perhaps the most aggressive rate of anybody in Louisiana politics outside of Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu, who will face off in the 2014 Senate race.

So much so that National Journal has noticed

Don’t think it’s a done deal that Sen. David Vitter will be Louisiana’s next governor; he still has to get through Lieutenant Gov. Jay Dardenne. And Dardenne is making moves to show he’s ready for a fight.

Dardenne is crisscrossing the state raising money for a likely gubernatorial bid, according to consultant Sally Nungesser, who is running his finance efforts.

Dardenne raised more more than $118,000 at a high-profile fundraiser at Republican consultantMary Matalin‘s home in New Orleans on Wednesday night, Nungesser said, his fifth fundraiser so far this year.

Though Wednesday night’s event was not specifically billed as a gubernatorial fundraiser, the invitation says that any donor who gives $5,000 to the campaign “before the 2015 Governor’s election” will be named to Dardenne’s “JayWalkers” club for major contributors. It also listed 152 co-hosts, a third of whom have already hit the $5,000 mark. “He has said that he fully intends to run. … I think it’s pretty clear to everybody that they are giving in the hopes that he runs for governor,” Nungesser said.

Sally Nungesser is Billy Nungesser’s sister  (EDIT: they’re cousins), and she was on Dardenne’s side in the 2011 race between the two that Dardenne won 53-47. She’s also one of Louisiana’s top political fundraisers, if not THE top political fundraiser in the state.

Dardenne will need the large advance war chest, because if Vitter gets in the race he’ll be able to spin up a large war chest very quickly. Of course, the race won’t be about Dardenne-vs.-Vitter, at least not in the primary.

That’s because Rep. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is also in the race. Edwards doesn’t have the kind of money Dardenne has or Vitter will have – at the end of 2012 he only had $37,000 in the bank – but simply by mobilizing the core Democrat base in the state he should be able to get pretty close to a third of the vote.

Conservative voters represent the largest electoral group in Louisiana – defined in the most favorable way they can comprise better than half the electorate – and Vitter can lay claim as the most outspoken representative of their interests. Of course, that doesn’t mean he can claim all of those votes in a primary; Vitter has largely overcome the DC Madam scandal which tarnished his reputation. But the smart money in the state says that Vitter will have the deepest and strongest base of support among the field should he run.

And that would mean Dardenne would be competing with Edwards for the second spot in the runoff, attempting to keep centrist voters and even some Democrats from returning to the party that formerly held sway in the state.

It’s a tough message to carry in a crowded field, particularly if there are other Republicans – like agriculture secretary Mike Strain and PSC member Scott Angelle – in the race. Both are raising money like Dardenne is, and Strain has already announced a 2015 gubernatorial bid.

Meaning that what Dardenne probably needs is a second Democrat in the race to knock Edwards out of the runoff. If he could find a Rick Gallot or J.P. Morrell who would be willing to split some of the black vote off Edwards, let’s say – and this might not be remotely possible – then he’d have an easy ride to the runoff with Vitter.

And at that point Dardenne could be in good shape, because he’d likely have an advantage on Vitter for the female vote and could benefit from Democrats fearing Vitter’s brand of conservatism in the governor’s mansion. Would that be enough?

We’ll have to wait to find out.

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