BAYHAM: The Mythical Jindal For Senate Campaign

I like to think I am a bona fide Bobby Jindal supporter.

I backed him every time he has run for office, including his two bids for Congress and his three campaigns for governor.

In his second run for the state’s top office, I even took an ad out in my hometown paper extolling his candidacy even though someone from my parish was also in the race.

And if per chance I would ever forget this, the local gubernatorial contender reminds me of it every time I run into him.

But just because I consider myself a Jindal supporter doesn’t mean I drink the Kool-Aid.

And I am not buying the Piyush Punch being served claiming that the governor is weighing a bid to run against Mary Landrieu for the US Senate seat she has occupied since 1997.

Firstly, a US Senate run in 2014 would make zero sense particularly as that it’s apparent he is planning a run for the presidency in 2016.

Parochial candidates don’t pen screeds about the direction of the national GOP in the Politico, as Jindal had recently done.

And US Senate candidates don’t gallivant all over the fruited plain of America attending fundraisers for people other than themselves.

Secondly, Jindal does not exactly have a warm and fuzzy relationship with his lieutenant governor Jay Dardenne.

Though they belong to the same political party, the first and second highest elected officials in the state have publicly clashed over the state’s tourism marketing budget, something Dardenne administers as the de facto state tourism director though Jindal influences its funding.

Though Jindal did not overtly oppose Dardenne’s re-election in 2011, it became obvious where his sentiments were in that election when the governor helped Dardenne’s opponent, Plaquemines Parish President Billy

Nungesser, raise money to retire his campaign debt from his unsuccessful bid only months after the election.

One could hardly expect Jindal to hand over the keys to the Governor’s Mansion plus the ability to dump his non-civil service appointees mid-term to a political adversary.

Third and perhaps most significantly, Jindal is one of the most risk-adverse people in politics. That’s not to say he is unwilling to launch bold policy initiatives but when it comes to putting his name on the ballot and political future on the line, Jindal plays it safe.

So safe that it could be argued that Jindal has never won a real election in his life. He secured his first term in Congress when supporters pressured his one credible challenger, then-state representative Steve Scalise, out of the race and faced token ballot space occupiers for re-election.

Though he faced two millionaire self-funders and a well-known established legislator for governor in 2007, Jindal was really running against Kathleen Blanco’s Katrina legacy. And before that campaign had even started, had wined and dined the sheriffs and parish assessors across the state into lining up behind him en masse.

In 2011, the Democratic Party didn’t bother getting out of bed on election day.

The one competitive election Jindal had ever been in was in 2003; and the Rhodes Scholar ended up losing that to the pride of USL (Blanco).

Landrieu is the last Democrat still standing in the state for good reason. She is a tough campaigner and has had to win her three terms facing conservative headwinds in each senate campaign. And while Jindal has strong relationships with sheriffs and other local officials across the state, Landrieu’s connections with parish political brokers run back further and go deeper.

In other words, Jindal cannot count on the courthouse crowd, who giddily clambered upon his political bandwagon when he faced nobody but would sooner take off early for deer hunting season before picking sides in that hypothetical contest.

And then there’s the matter of his career mobility.

Until he was re-elected as governor and abstained from rumored presidential bids in 2008 and 2012, Jindal was haunted by his reputation for never staying in one place long and bouncing from one title to the next. Not even Bobby could talk fast enough to get around the question of whether he would serve the full six year term if elected. And to go into a race with Landrieu without renouncing all other offices would mean almost certain defeat since a Jindal-Landrieu race would go down to the wire in a best case scenario.

Unless the governor has developed an affinity for roulette, there’s no way Jindal is going to risk his future and White House aspirations against a formidable opponent such as Landrieu.

So if Jindal isn’t running for the US Senate in 2014, why is he about to visit Louisiana’s 64 parishes, an announcement that provided the accelerant for the senate talk.

My guess is that he’s looking to mitigate the political damage he has taken with his publicized frequent visits to counties in other time zones and a legislative session that didn’t exactly work out as he had initially hoped.

Jindal’s poll numbers are south of Highway 90, which do not lend credibility for a presidential bid that has been largely overshadowed by the possible candidacies of Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Chris Christie.

A conservative Republican governor having anemic poll numbers in a Deep South state would not be interpreted favorably by outside political observers and the national press.

There could be a Machiavellian reason for the “Jindal for Senate” talk. It is no secret that there has been a chill between the Fourth Floor and Congressman Bill Cassidy, thus far the lone high profile Republican to announce his intentions to run against Landrieu in 2014.

Cassidy has had some success breaking into the Louisiana news cycle as of late, particularly with his efforts on Capitol Hill to prevent a potential jump in flood insurance rates, an issue that touches the wallets of many south Louisianans.

Could the Jindal for Senate talk be a ploy to choke off Cassidy’s fundraising, damage his credibility by driving down his poll numbers and make national Republican figures and campaign committees back away from the Baton Rouge doctor’s candidacy until Jindal definitively declares his non-interest in the race?

Such political maneuvering would not be unprecedented.

In 2002 Republican Governor Mike Foster, who did not share his protégé’s enthusiasm for out of state travel, also expressed interest in a US Senate run.

The theory went that Foster, whose political operation was working for a different candidate, was hoping to pour water on then-Elections Commissioner Suzie Terrell’s campaign for US Senate, which had been building momentum.

Politicos knew better and it became a one-day news story. Foster proved to be less than helpful to Terrell in the runoff.

So is Jindal’s name being thrown out there for US Senate as a means to hold the door for another candidate, who ostensibly would have the governor’s blessing?

I’d sooner bet on that than Jindal’s name appearing on the ballot next November.



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