SADOW: John Bel Edwards’ Puffer-Fish Gambit

While the calendar says that the next Louisiana governor’s election won’t be until next November and for now political attention is on an ex-convict by that last name, the future is now for Democrat state Rep.John Bel Edwards as he scrambles to maintain viability in this contest.

It began early last month when New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieuwith only minor difficulty got himself reelected, eliciting from Edwards a remark in a congratulatory communiqué that Landrieu should keep his campaign promise to serve the full term – meaning he would not run for governor against Edwards. That he found it necessary not just to state this, but also not to keep it private, constitutes an admission by Edwards that if Louisiana Democrats’ candidate statures were akin to a 45 rpm single, he is stamped on the B-side.

Then, days later on the eve that campaign finance reports were due for major office candidates in the contest that, as of the end of that reporting period, only had Edwards as a significant candidate, hiscampaign breathlessly announced that he had pulled in $550,000 or so in the period, leaving around $475,000 in the bank. Never mind, of course, that the only other announced significant candidate, Republican Sen. David Vitter, already had a group set up to help him raise three times that and hinted that had effectively doubled in the previous few weeks, or that the all-but-announced candidate Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne(whose report lists the office in question as “statewide”), who felt no need to broadcast it, had raised over $750,000 in this period and at the end of 2013 sat on $1.225 million.

Turns out, however, about then that he was plunking down a bit of the kitty on some polling, spurred possibly by getting wind of a Public Policy Polling survey that was about to go out about the governor’s race. PPP, whose methodology leans its results in favor of Democrats, found a disheartening picture for Democrats in the contest, with both Vitter and Dardenne beating Landrieu and Edwards by double digits – with Edwards getting clocked by over 20 points by each. Perhaps most discouragingly to him, when respondents were asked about whether they liked or disliked him, of the only 30 percent who said they had any opinion of him, only 11 percent said they liked him scoring him -9 – while Dardenne was +25, Landrieu +18, and Vitter +18 (his being on job performance).

If Edwards anything to say about this, he never made such remarks public. But last week he had plenty to say about an internally-commissioned poll that appeared to have been in the field around the same time that – surprise – showed he fared much better against the hypothetical field. Here, he trailed Vitter by only 6 points, but after a series of questions designed to convey laudatory aspects about the candidate (and devoid of any that acknowledged issue preferences of the candidate that run against majority public opinion or any controversy about him), which is known as a “push poll,” then, mirabile dictu, he led Vitter by 6 points! And he was not shy about telling the world about it.

Now, why should Edwards make these remarks 21 months before the actual election when it doesn’t matter what cash is raised now as opposed to how it’s raised and deployed later, or that early polling often bears no resemblance to later efforts, or even to the lineups and results that actually come from a real, not hypothetical, election? Because not only does Landrieu loom in the background, like a bully on the Democrat playground all too ready to swipe the candy cane from poor John Bel, but now the shadow of another big boy, former state party chairman Jim Bernhard, has fallen across the toddler Edwards.

Bernhard, having sold off a firm he helped build from scratch for tens of millions of dollars, now has much time and money with little to do and so has taken to musing about how he might take a stab at the governor’s office. Edwards knows all too well what tools these his hands would make to wreck his campaign.

So, just as with Landrieu, he needs, like a puffer fish, to blow himself up with enough of his own hot air to make himself look more formidable to Bernhard, or to everybody else. Except that there’s something one should learn in the world of academia, in the game of love, and, indeed, in many different ventures of life: the more you talk about yourself, you show to others the less there is about you worth talking about.

If you have to go out and try to convince people you’re a quality candidate who can win, you aren’t, because supporters and voters don’t need such prompting when the real things emerges. In trying to foster this image of himself in order to scare away potential Democrat opponents, Edwards’ puffery is just as likely to be taken as a soft underbelly ready to be gutted.

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