It’s now Rep. Bill Cassidy’s 2014 Senate race to lose, Sen. David Vitter’s governor’s race to begin to consolidate upon, and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s restoration of political capital to achieve, according to a semi-annual poll put out there by one of Louisiana’s major Republican activists.
Lane Grigsby’s exercise of every six months or so this time brought in a new firm and even more in-depth information (from a well-constructed sample although a bit on the small side) that should hearten but worry Cassidy. The Republican challenging incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu should gain morale because, in a question about the Senate vote this fall, a generic GOP candidate topped 40 percent, over 6 points better than a generic Democrat. It got better when a question asking about Landrieu reelection over 56 percent said they definitely would pass on her, and her job approval was disapproved by 53 percent. Further, in a parsing of all four announced candidates, he drew 26 percent while Landrieu got only 39.
Providing context, while almost all respondents could rate Landrieu, less than half could do so for Cassidy, and of those who did two-thirds, or about a quarter of all, rated him favorably. This means he has tremendous room to grow in support and capture a good bit of the nearly 30 percent of the undecided segment out there. By contrast, Landrieu has little room to improve.
This should cause the worry for Cassidy. Simply, when you’re an incumbent senator who 56 percent say the office needs a newcomer, when 53 percent disapprove of your job, and only 39 percent say they would reelect seven months out, you’re a goner unless something amazing happens. You either can hope that amazing thing comes as a result of a blundering campaign by your opponents or by great fortune, but neither are in your control. As there is not much you can do to turn around people’s thinking of you, the only thing you can do is to try to eviscerate your (in this instance main) opponent and pray somehow those voters stay home as few will come to you.
So Cassidy needs to gird himself for an intense period of having his character assassinated over the next couple of months, because if Landrieu’s campaign hasn’t moved the needle significantly by summer, she’s history as far as what she can do on her own to turn things around. Worse, she has to get above the 50-percent-plus-one mark in the general election against all candidates, because, as favorable as the electorate will be for Republican candidates in this off-election year, for the general election runoff it will be even more so in terms of demographics. And the problem is that her best strategy of tearing down Cassidy because she can’t do much to build herself up enough to win would end up diverting the votes to other Republicans, most of whose voters then would rally to Cassidy in the runoff (as a second choice ballot question confirmed: only 3.6 percent would support Landrieu in that instance). As a result, Landrieu’s attacks on Cassidy soon to arrive will be vicious, petty, and omnipresent, because they are her only, longshot chance now to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
By contrast, opinions are far from set in stone about the 2015 governor’s contest, but Republican Vitter has the early clubhouse lead and seems well-positioned at this point to keep it. He’s above 55 percent in approval, topping both of his main presumed challengers Republicans Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Treasurer John Kennedy, although his ratio of like to dislike at a bit under 2:1 is not nearly as good as the 4:1 and 7:1, respectively, of the pair but almost half of respondents did not have an opinion of them. Further, he leads in the race, besting both of them combined, with his closest rival being the hypothetical at this point challenger Democrat New Orleans MayorMitch Landrieu around 27-26.
Unlike with Mary Landrieu, who’s underwater and has little opportunity to attract votes, with Vitter having solid approval numbers, having his opponents Dardenne and Kennedy convert those not knowing them into approving of them doesn’t not mean undecided voters will break decisively their way, because of Vitter’s perception of approval. His task at this early juncture is to keep it that way. The second-choice data show that Vitter at 15 percent and then likely to pick up a portion of Dardenne and Kennedy’s combined 40 percent as second choices would put him over the top in a runoff. (Keep in mind this election is in 19 months, however.)
And then there’s Jindal, who finds he’s now about treading water in approval, checking in with both an approval and (slightly more) disapproval around 45 percent. This represents an improvement over polling of the last year that had him under 40 percent approval. But it’s no mystery to understand why this recovery has occurred: his agenda of the past couple of years that broke from a cautious, incremental reform of state policy and institutions to an all-out attempt to transform the state’s political culture has subsided into a defensively-oriented strategy. With the big-ticket items, such as privatization of management of almost all state hospitals, proceeding with little controversy or being dialed back for an operational pause, such as with education reforms, the introduction of principled conservatism to many areas of state policy and governance that challenges the populist persuasion within the culture has become less obvious and/or the changes, reviled by revanchist elements, have not manifested as the traumas oversold by opponents and have solidified support among advocates of right-sized government. This is confirmed by that fact that, wherever in the poll there was a significant difference in issue preferences among the public, majorities preferred those that have been supported by the Jindal Administration.
If Jindal does seek higher national office, these are the kind of numbers (and, additionally, showing he would best former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical presidential matchup in the state by 5 points) that allows him to keep thinking that’s a realistic possibility. They also show that, particularly if he concentrates on defense with select, incremental moves on offense, he remains a policy-making force at the state level.