Its recent media activity shows the Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards reelection campaign is very worried.
Edwards has a lot of headwinds in his quest to stay in office past the end of this year, with polling for the most part reflecting his waning chance at returning to office. A record of one of the worst, if not the worst, performing state economies in the country during his term, caused by sales tax increases he continues to champion and state-sourced spending that grew around twice the rate of inflation triggered by this will hobble any chance he has at another four years.
Faced with that lackluster record to defend, the Edwards campaign has responded with a time-honored strategy: distract from that by making personal attacks on the opposition. And, in this case, not very compelling ones.
In recent days, the Edwards campaign has promoted two themes, both focusing on his presumed main competitor Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham. One criticizes Abraham for the number of congressional votes he has missed since the end of last year, when he began campaigning in earnest. Or, as a campaign flak put it, “If Rep. Abraham won’t even show up for major votes in Congress, Louisianans can’t trust him to show up for them as governor.”
Of course, while that accusation isn’t accurate, it is plenty silly. While Abraham has missed a number of votes, few have been major, and Edwards himself missed votes, a few major, as a legislator during his campaign in 2015 even though he was at the Capitol and only spent a couple of months in session whereas Abraham’s gig is full-time. Additionally, governors don’t “vote” on anything.
But the real story here is that the campaign even would try this tack. Even the most casual voter sees the difference between the state’s chief executive and a legislative role, even if they can tell little about the specific powers and job responsibilities. The strained connection between casting votes in far-off Washington as one of hundreds of officials and performing the chief executive’s job in your home state means few if any will buy it, as witnessed by Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s successful run in 2007 when he missed over half of chamber votes in the last part of the year.
Yet if you think this is desperate, consider the kerfuffle over a truck ad. On his campaign’s social media platform, Abraham’s team took an old ad and ran it with his logo. The manufacturer didn’t mind because it gave free publicity to its product, although it issued a statement saying it had nothing to do with the Abraham campaign.
However, the Edwards campaign and state Democrats went ballistic, offended at the reuse even though they had no connection to the manufacturer or ad. All in all, their caterwauling created an enormous amount of free media over the airwaves for Abraham, and not any that would hurt him among voters. What’s the Edwards campaign going to do, claim Abraham is dishonest for using a recycled ad? When Edwards’ opponents will hammer home that he can’t be trusted after breaking promises that he wouldn’t raise taxes on Louisianans, reneging on low-income students enjoying school choice, and so on?
Attempted character assassination, which worked against GOP former Sen. David Vitter when Edwards had only an obscure record as one of the most leftist Democrats in the Legislature, won’t fly with such a dismal record as Edwards has compiled since. And it’s real grasping at straws to employ missed votes and truck commercials as ammunition. But when the politics of distraction are more important than debating the issues for your purposes, desperation dictates that you base your campaign primarily on that strategy.