Accusations, Hilarity And A Meltdown In The Making

Let’s get something out of the way first, because what’s about to happen in the comments under Hayride posts about the 6th District race is the same thing which happens in the comments under posts we do about the Senate race – namely, that interested parties will begin to hurl accusations of favoritism of “you’re in the tank for X” and so forth.

Our primary interest in the 6th District race is that Edwin Edwards loses. Period. Give us Dan Claitor, Paul Dietzel, Garret Graves, Lenar Whitney, Craig McCulloch, Trey Thomas, Bob Bell…whoever. Pretty much any of the Republicans in the race will be a reliable conservative vote in the House, and for the most part if you put any one of them in a runoff with Edwards we’re pretty confident they’d be able to beat him in a Republican district unless they managed to completely melt down.

So in evaluating the 6th District campaigns we’re looking for signs of a potential meltdown. Have we seen any?

Well, Cassie Felder deciding to sue people as a means of generating earned media for her campaign was one. Felder isn’t a viable candidate now, if she ever was one. We’ve covered that ground.

McCulloch, Bell and Thomas haven’t really ever seemed to get their campaigns off the ground, and time is running short. But, at least in the case of McCulloch and Thomas it looks like this race might be more of a springboard to a future run for office. And in that sense there isn’t really a way either could melt down.

Claitor has run a pretty solid race, trading on his name recognition and sticking to a message of touting small business against intrusive government regulation. It’s something the vast majority of the voters agree with and it, plus “he’s not Edwin Edwards” is probably enough to win him the race in the runoff. But Claitor has made some mistakes during this race, most notably the own-goal of attacking Tony Perkins back in December without knowing whether the latter would actually run. When Perkins didn’t, Claitor ended up alienating some decent-sized percentage of Christian conservative voters unnecessarily by equating him with David Duke. That might or might not end up a big deal in the race; if Claitor gets to the runoff those people are still quite likely to turn out for him over Edwards, and if it works out that way he’ll look like a sharp operator. Claitor’s other problem is that he hasn’t raised a lot of money in the race, and in fact he’s on his third fundraiser at present. The current one has a good reputation, but he just got started and it’s exceedingly late in the game. That has kept Claitor off TV, and he would have really benefited from a TV campaign.

Dietzel has probably run the most impressive race of the bunch compared to the expectations of his campaign. After all, he’s all of 28 years old. What is a 28-year old doing running for Congress? But Dietzel has shown some real political talent during this campaign, and he’s built a very impressive army of volunteers that might translate into an effective ground game. He’s done a good job trading on the goodwill surrounding his family name, and he’s had an excellent message people can get behind – an unapologetic small-government conservatism, which is solidly social conservative without coming off as exclusive or scolding. But the problem Dietzel has had, which we think largely arises from the fact he’s 28, has been fundraising. He raised a nice chunk of money early, but hit a wall after that and has had a real problem with his “burn rate” as the campaign has worn on. We heard a story last week from a credible source to the effect that Dietzel had to cancel an order for yard signs with a printing company because the campaign is running on fumes. Whether that’s true or not we don’t know; undoubtedly they’ll respond and say they’re in fine shape but they’ve admitted fundraising has been a challenge.

As for Graves, fundraising hasn’t been a challenge. His challenge has been name ID and an association with Gov. Bobby Jindal, who really is that unpopular. We’ve heard Graves referred to as “that Jindal guy,” because his last job entailed running the governor’s coastal restoration agency, and that identification could be a problem if last year’s special election over in the 5th District is any indication. Voters there looked at Neil Riser as “that Jindal guy” and it was fatal in a runoff against another Republican. Graves has also gotten splattered with the stupid Cassie Felder lawsuit, plus he has Pat Bergeron running around trying to bash him with things like video of him giving Mary Landrieu a peck on the cheek by way of greeting when both were qualifying for their respective races at the Secretary of State’s office. Those are small and mostly insignificant things, but when you’re not very well-known they might end up defining you before you can do it yourself. Graves has a huge war chest in comparison to the other campaigns, so he really ought to be able to overcome those problems. But he waited until a week or two ago to go up on TV in a major way, and right or wrong it somewhat feels like he’s throwing downfield in the 4th quarter trying to erase a two-touchdown deficit. If his TV spots lead to a late surge and put him in the runoff then he’s run a brilliant campaign; if not, then he raised and spent a whole lot of money and turned out to be a bust. And nobody in Louisiana will ever want to be “that Jindal guy” again.

All that said, none of those flaws are fatal. Anybody who makes the runoff with Edwin Edwards will get deluged with more money than they can possibly spend, so slow fundraising to date isn’t really a problem. Plus, none of the above candidates have done anything that would disqualify them or make them unacceptable to the majority of 6th District voters who will be horrified at the prospect of sending a convicted felon to Congress.

Which brings us to Lenar Whitney.

We actually like Lenar. She’s a great lady, she’s a hard worker and she’s a solid conservative. She’s got a more or less impeccable voting record in the state legislature – Whitney was one of only four House members to post a 100 percent score with LABI in this past session, and she matched that with a 100 percent score with the Louisiana Family Forum.

So as a candidate we’re disposed to liking her and putting her on the same plane with Claitor, Dietzel and Graves.

But the Whitney campaign did something today which was so ridiculous that it makes us think she could well melt down if she went up against Edwards. Her campaign team looks like the biggest bunch of bush-league operators in this race, and it’s getting worse.

Specifically, this…

IS GARRET GRAVES DOING A PUSH POLL?

Complaints have surfaced that the Garret Graves campaign may be conducting a push poll throughout the Sixth Congressional district.

The call begins with a live caller pretending to poll for the U.S. Senate race. After a response is given, the live caller then turns to the Congressional race.

If you say you are supporting “Lenar Whitney”  the caller flips the “poll” into a negative campaign ad – encouraging you to vote for Garret Graves.

Nowhere during the call does it say who is conducting this push poll.

“Push polls” are explicitly illegal under Louisiana law. Louisiana’s push poll law was intended to prevent deceptive campaign advocacy techniques.

Federal election law is designed to require disclosure of who is making election-related communications  to the general public.

“The Garret Graves campaign has a choice,” said Chris Comeaux, spokesman for the Lenar Whitney campaign. “Either stop doing the ‘poll’ or put your campaign’s name on it.”

That went out today, one day after the Whitney campaign put out a poll which wasn’t just commissioned by its campaign manager Jeff Giles, who by the way is Whitney’s employer at her day job; the poll was conducted by a company Giles owns. Naturally that poll had Whitney in the lead among the Republican candidates in the race; if you can’t lead a poll your own campaign manager does then what’s the point of running?

That poll also had a sample of FORTY-EIGHT HUNDRED respondents. Nobody does a sample that size for a poll of a congressional district. You don’t do a poll like that in order to take a snapshot of the horse race; you do it for the purposes of voter ID for get-out-the-vote operations.

It’s not a big surprise that neither the Advocate, nor the Picayune, nor the Houma Courier, nor any media outlet save this one, picked up on such a poll. The mainstream media outlets will lend credibility to an independently-commissioned poll, particularly one performed by a reputable polling firm. They might lend some credibility to a poll released by a campaign if it was conducted by a reputable polling firm, though they’ll report the results with the caveat that the campaign is probably spinning the results.

They’re not going to ascribe credibility to a poll conducted by the campaign manager himself.

What was especially funny was that the Giles poll alleged Whitney is beating Graves in Terrebonne Parish by a 47-7 count. Graves has the endorsement of Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet and Rep. Gordon Dove, who represents Houma; the idea that all he has is seven percent of the vote down there is ludicrous. If the poll had said Whitney was leading Graves 47-27 it would be believable, but they overdid it.

So a day after releasing that dubious poll, Whitney’s campaign is accusing Graves of push-polling. In a phone call with The Hayride today, Comeaux stated that the campaign was going to engage an attorney and file a complaint against Graves. How to prove those allegations seemed like a question he wasn’t prepared to answer.

The Graves campaign wasn’t all that impressed with the accusations. This was the response campaign manager Kevin Roig gave us when asked about the “push-poll…”

We do not engage in ridiculous tactics such as push polls or trying to manufacture fake controversies in the news media.

Over the last few months, we’ve witnessed everything from push poll controversies, to bogus polling, to frivolous lawsuits and yes…Edwin Edwards. P.T. Barnum himself couldn’t put on this many side show circus acts.

Yet through it all, our campaign has remained focused on a plan, determined to win and rock solid in our execution because that’s what winners do and that’s what leaders do. If we’re going to get this country back on track, it’s going to take more than a side show.

Onward and upward.

If Garret Graves is in the field conducting blatantly illegal push-polls, he’s got to have the dumbest campaign team in politics. You do a push-poll when your campaign has no money, and you’re trying to drum up a good number that you can then show donors with a fundraising pitch along the lines of “we can win this thing if we can get you to contribute x-dollars.” When your war chest can buy you enough media to bury the competition under an avalanche of TV spots, you’re not going to go around doing shady push-polls whereby the operators fuss at respondents for giving the wrong answers.

But if you want to believe that Graves’ people are that stupid, knock yourself out. Certainly that’s more likely than Jeff Giles and Chris Comeaux trying to build a narrative that the poll they released on Monday is the real thing and that other campaigns, and not them, are engaged in shenanigans with polls by making that outlandish accusation today. You’re right.

It’s not like there hasn’t been a pattern of bush-league stuff coming from that campaign. Remember the Cook Political Report disaster? If ever there was a red flag that this is a campaign which could drop the ball and lose to Edwards, that was one. If you’re not aware, Comeaux had Whitney do a four-minute web ad claiming that “global warming is a hoax” – which is a position we actually agree with, but a rather uncommonly dumb political position to take. If you want to come out against global warming, what you say is that all the things the Left wants to do to combat global warming will be the death of the oil and gas/petrochemical industry-based economy of the 6th District and nobody has actually proved global warming even exists. You can say that, and anybody who wants to disagree has to prove both that the 6th District’s economy will be just fine if the EPA brings in a restrictive carbon-emissions regime, for example, and that there is incontrovertible evidence global warming is happening.

Instead, Comeaux had Whitney go out on a limb on camera and ended up beset on all sides. First, she ended up in a tinkling match with noted idiot Russell Brand, who is not somebody you want to be mudwrestling with if you intend on being taken seriously as a congressional candidate. And then, while in Washington for a fundraiser hosted by Tony Perkins, Comeaux put Whitney into an interview with David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. Wasserman was taken with the global warming video and decided to plumb the depths of Whitney’s knowledge of the issue. To say that she got a bad notice from him when he wrote about the encounter in the Washington Post would be charitable…

But never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse as Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney, 55, who visited my office last Wednesday. It’s tough to decide which party’s worst nightmare she would be.

Whitney has only raised $123,000 to date (fourth in the GOP field), but she has sought to boost her profile and appeal to conservative donors with a slickly made YouTube video entitled “GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX” (84,000 views so far). In the video, Whitney gleefully and confidently asserts that the theory of global warming is the “greatest deception in the history of mankind” and that “any 10-year-old” can disprove it with a simple household thermometer.

Whitney’s brand of rhetoric obviously resonates with some very conservative Louisiana voters who view President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency as big-city elitists directly attacking the state’s energy industry and their own way of life. And she would hardly be the first “climate denier” elected to Congress. But it’s not unreasonable to expect candidates to explain how they arrived at their positions, and when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.

In our treatment of this mess we made this point

The problem is, if you’re going out on a limb and making that video in an effort to stake out a position starting a fight that will increase your profile on the political scene, you had better become a lay expert on that subject. Wasserman might not like the authorities behind your position, but you ought to make sure he knows you’re pretty well read on the topic. He’s going to report that you believe a bunch of charlatans and shysters and quacks about that issue, but that’s a lot better than him reporting you don’t know anything at all about the issue you just did a four-minute video on. Whitney needed Wasserman to think he had walked into her wheelhouse when he asked that question.

We were actually fairly friendly to Whitney in that piece, in that we took the position that Wasserman was probably snarling and when he asked Whitney whether she thought Barack Obama was born in America or not it was telling what kind of interview he was conducting.

But here’s the problem – putting Whitney in that interview was an act of malpractice on Comeaux’s part. Pure amateur hour. If you’re going to do web ads calling global warming a hoax or suggesting that owners of companies caught hiring illegal aliens go to jail – not pay a stiff fine but go to jail – then you’d better have a candidate who can wonk out with the best of them and, when asked about the topics of your web videos, can unleash a stream of policy that would make Bobby Jindal blush. And if your candidate isn’t capable of wonktastic discourse you’d better not put her in interviews where she’ll look bad.

Comeaux failed on every score, which gives us reason to think that if you put Whitney into a runoff with Edwards he’s entirely likely to find a way to lose that race for his client. Pile “Pollgate” on top of that disaster and it only confirms that impression.

Whitney might not have great policy chops. Some think that’s a weakness of her as a Republican candidate in this race, if perhaps not a necessarily fatal one. But her handlers went from accentuating that weakness with those web ads to now making her look shady by calling attention to that clownish poll with those weird, and maybe hypocritical, charges. Even if Graves really is push-polling, which nobody is going to believe, so what? Push that issue by doing as Comeaux threatened over the phone today and getting attorneys involved, and now Whitney will look like another Cassie Felder trying to sue her way to electoral victory.

A veteran politico friend of ours told us today, prompted by this alleged push-poll thing, that “Comeaux is going to lose that race either in November or December.” We think that’s correct based on the evidence. And that’s why, while we really do like Whitney, that campaign is simply too bush-league to take a chance on in a runoff.

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