…can be found here.
The announcement might not have been a surprise, but it did make a statement. For should Republicans recapture the Senate majority in this year’s elections, Vitter is poised to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which would make him the most powerful politician Louisiana has had in Washington since Russell B. Long chaired the Senate Finance Committee from 1966 to 1981.
And given the importance of the issues under EPW’s purview, Vitter could be even better positioned to deliver on that power than did Long. EPW is instrumental in setting federal policy on coastal erosion and restoration, on offshore oil exploration and production, and on the Army Corps of Engineers and its work in building and managing flood-control structures. The committee Vitter could chair next year is vital to Louisiana’s interest—and yet he would limit himself to just one year with his hand on such a crucial lever.
But Vitter has always wanted to be governor, and now he’s in a position to be just that. He already has more money accumulated for the 2015 race ($1.5 million in a Vitter-connected Super PAC) than any of his prospective opponents, and he is Louisiana’s most gifted politician in a generation.
There’s a little something in it for everybody. Since I was asked to write about Vitter’s announcement, the piece comes from the perspective of his candidacy, but the other two major players in the race at this point, Jay Dardenne and John Bel Edwards, get a fair amount of ink.
What didn’t make it in, because the piece ran quite a bit longer than I’d hoped, was the interview I did with our buddy John Couvillon of JMC Enterprises, who is rapidly becoming the Thufir Hawat of Louisiana politics. So why not include that here?
MACAOIDH: Question #1: if Vitter and Dardenne got into a runoff, what voting groups in play decide the race?
COUVILLON: Democrats. You have to think of the governors race as operating on three tracks. Track #1 is the “Democratic track.” Right now, Rep. John Bel Edwards has it to himself, unless Mitch Landrieu jumps in. But Edwards has been corralling Democratic support, and comes from a political family, so I expect to see him get the Democratic vote. Track #2 is the “moderate” track (by Louisiana standards). Jay Dardenne owns this, although John Kennedy could give him a run for his money. Then we have track #3: the conservative track, where Vitter dominates, unless Jindal attempts to put up a candidate. Tracks #2 and 3 are roughly equal, so the Democrats break the tie.
MACAOIDH: Question on Track #1, then: can John Bel Edwards pull enough support together to make a runoff? He would have to mobilize a ton of black vote to get into the runoff, no?
COUVILLON: Yes, provided that there is no Mitch Landrieu or Foster Campbell. My suspicion is that Democrats are hungry to occupy the office, so I think they’d try to coalesce behind one person.
There is a 30-35% populist vote base that will go for a Democrat. And as I said before, with 1 strong Democrat in the race, that equals the runoff. This is NOT the 5th CD, where the Democrats (from a strategic point) foolishly allowed their vote to be diluted, thus costing them the runoff.
MACAOIDH: So you think Edwards can get into New Orleans and mine that vote in enough numbers to get to the 2nd stage. Can he do it in a three-way race? If it’s Vitter-Dardenne-Edwards, let’s say.
COUVILLON: As long as there is no Mitch, yes. Plus, let’s be honest: you have a contingent of voters who will see the Edwards last name and vote for him on that basis alone. Yes to your three way question, because I don’t think Dardenne will have the “moderate” vote all to himself. And Vitter will call in favors (ever since the inception of the LCRM, he has been methodical about helping Republicans, meaning you have a LOT of IOUs) to get a united conservative bloc.
MACAOIDH: I’m guessing Edwards is begging for Scott Angelle and John Kennedy to get in.
COUVILLON: Yes. I see 60-65% who would vote for a Republican and 30-35% who would vote for a Democrat in a crowded field. And the GOP has grown enough to where you will have various factions with “their” candidate.
MACAOIDH: So the long and short is that if there is a competent Dem candidate, Dardenne is getting squeezed.
COUVILLON: A competent Dem squeezes Dardenne. Because you have a bloc of white moderate/liberal voters in Orleans/East Baton Rouge parishes who might vote for Jay against a more conservative candidate. Throw in a “strong” Democrat, and partisan loyalties come into play.
I see Jay’s vote as more (BR/NO) urban and (to some extent) south Louisiana.
MACAOIDH: So the question is whether Edwards can surface as a “strong” Democrat. And that’s a question, because I’m hearing the trial lawyer money is going to Dardenne right now and not Edwards.
COUVILLON: Yes. Granted, Twitter utterances from candidates are PR pieces, but to me, Edwards has some gravitas because (1) he is from a political family, (2) his last name, (3) he carried the water for the teachers unions, (4) he also can hook into the trial lawyer base. Regarding your statement about the trial lawyers, they want to back a winner who they think isn’t strongly against them. Current poll numbers suggest that Dardenne is that candidate. If you see partisan loyalties assert themselves, they may flip to Edwards in the end.
MACAOIDH: OK – if Mitch gets in, does Edwards get out? That’s an academic question, BTW, because I think Mitch is going to be pretty badly damaged by what happens Saturday.
COUVILLON: If Mitch gets in, he squeezes Edwards. But Mitch also has to navigate through (1) a NO Mayor’s race, and (2) his sister’s campaign. If Mitch is too rough on Bagneris, black voters may not want to support him.
MACAOIDH: Is there a poll out on the mayor’s race? I haven’t seen one.
COUVILLON: Haven’t seen one. Although I’m sure Mitch has polled.
MACAOIDH: All of the New Orleans pols I’ve talked to are saying it’s going to be close and that Bagneris might even win. I don’t know if I buy it, but he seems to have pulled the street organizations to his side. I’m kind of surprised the TV stations haven’t polled the race lately.
COUVILLON: Me too. Have the black political groups coalesced behind Bagneris?
MACAOIDH: Sounds like it, yeah.
COUVILLON: I’m sure the Republicans are operating a covert “mess with Mitch” campaign. Which would pull some votes off in Lakeview. Like in 2006.
BTW, very heavy black early vote. Although it seems the early voting in Orleans is heavily black (from what I’ve heard) because of the “convenience” of the early voting location.
MACAOIDH: OK, back to the 2015 race. It was claimed Vitter got 15 percent of the black vote against Melancon in 2010. Any reason to think he can eat into it in 2015?
COUVILLON: I think the black vote stays solidly Democratic. Although even 10-15% could keep a Democrat out of the runoff. In electoral terms, that’s 3-4% of the overall vote.
MACAOIDH: How about Dardenne with the black vote? His people brag that he’s performed well with it, but I don’t know what he got against Fayard.
COUVILLON: Precincts that are 80% or more black voted 89-5% for Melancon (6% voted for the other candidates). Fayard carried the black vote 93-7%. So Dardenne in that race only got 2% more than Vitter.
Of course, in that race, Dardenne ran as a more partisan Republican, because he needed the Kershaw and Villere vote to win.
MACAOIDH: Is that how we gauge the black vote?
COUVILLON: Best possible way, in my opinion.
MACAOIDH: It doesn’t seem to take into account how middle class black folks who might live in more mixed neighborhoods are voting…
COUVILLON: From experience, in partisan contests, the black vote is the same regardless of socioeconomic status. But just for fun, let me get the East Baton Rough black numbers for those 2010 races. In EBR, precincts that are 80% or more black voted 92-8 for Fayard and 91-4 for Melancon. So Dardenne got 4% MORE of the black vote in his home base.
MACAOIDH: OK, so…that means there’s only, what? 7-8 percent of the black vote available to Republican candidates? In the primary, I mean.
COUVILLON: The baseline I like to use is like this: (1) partisan primary contest: 3-5% blacks voting Republican, (2) partisan primary contest where Republican has some ties/friendships with the black community: 10%. In fact, I’ll tease you: minority Republicans can get some black votes. Let me pull the Jindal numbers. In 2003, Jindal got 10% of the black vote in the runoff against Blanco. In 2007, Jindal got 10% in the primary. And in 2011, Jindal got 15%. So a minority Republican CAN pull some black vote.
MACAOIDH: Of course, Jindal’s faction won’t have a candidate capable of doing that in 2015.
COUVILLON: So I’d budget 10% for Vitter + Dardenne. And your last point is dead on about “Jindal’s faction.”
MACAOIDH: I don’t see Scott Angelle making much of a dent in the race should he get in. Do you?
COUVILLON: No. There are two many strong candidates in the race already. Besides, with what you pointed out in the Hayride about his voting record on the PSC, wouldn’t that KILL him if he wanted to get funds from LABI types?
MACAOIDH: There was a good bit of trepidation in the oil and gas industry about Angelle’s role in the legacy lawsuit compromise in the state legislature in 2012. A lot of those folks, who had been Angelle supporters, felt he went squishy on them in that debate.
What might be interesting between Vitter and Dardenne is how that legacy lawsuit issue plays out.
COUVILLON: It will be a huge clash. Because both have access to gobs of cash.
MACAOIDH: Dardenne is getting trial lawyer money, so he would seem to be the guy who would take a more conciliatory position on legacy lawsuits. That was an accusation that has been leveled at Jindal, particularly by the oil and gas lobby. One would expect Vitter to be more staunchly behind the oil and gas position. I would imagine that could deliver Southwest Louisiana for him.
COUVILLON: One thing that helps Vitter over a Dardenne or even an Angelle is that he has spent time building up the GOP bench in the legislature. So Republicans really owe him a lot. Vitter also has another gift: the knack for championing causes that politicians HATE but voters LOVE. The Obamacare/insurance coverage for Congressional staffers was the most recent “Exhibit A.”
MACAOIDH: How did Vitter do against Melancon in Terrebonne, Acadia and Calcasieu, for example?
COUVILLON: Carried all of them. Melancon was pathetic statewide. The only place he had much traction among white voters was in EBR and Orleans (lots of professional women who bristled with hate about the (ahem) incident. What also needs to be noted is Vitter slaughtered Melancon in his (former) district.
Melancon was “Walter Mondale weak.” The old 3rd voted 56-38% for Vitter. Which, for a 6 year incumbent, is a SERIOUS embarassment.
MACAOIDH: Melancon ran his whole race on hookers, and his geographic base was a bunch of people who voted for EWE every chance they got. One wonders how Melancon thought a whole campaign about Vitter’s sexual escapades would be effective with those people.
COUVILLON: In general, most people didn’t care about Vitter’s “serious sin” because the race was about Obama, and Charley-Boy was a waffle on this issue.
MACAOIDH: OK, now – can Dardenne make more out of that issue than Charlie-Boy did?
COUVILLON: Not really, By 2015, the scandal will be 8 years old. It might have had traction in 2007, but certainly not now.
MACAOIDH: I would agree with that, plus Jay isn’t the kind of guy to go negative in a political race.
Another question: Do Dardenne and John Kennedy cancel each other out? And if so, does Vitter promise Kennedy that Senate seat as a reward for keeping Dardenne out of the runoff?
COUVILLON: I don’t think Kennedy will have that much impact. He’s run races before where he dips his toe in the water, then takes it back out. But a Kennedy Senate seat “reward” would make all the sense in the world.
MACAOIDH: The rumor mill has floated that one for a while. One wonders if, should Kennedy get appointed by Vitter as his replacement whether he could hold it against an Eric Skrmetta (Louisiana Public Service Commission Chairman) or (U.S. Rep.) John Fleming in 2016.
COUVILLON: Yeah, anointed candidates have a strike against them. Just ask Neil Riser.