We’re pretty sure that very few of you watched the gubernatorial debate which aired on Nexstar TV stations across the state at 7:00 on Friday night. We’re sure about that because very few people watch television at all at 7:00 on Friday night, and after the first gubernatorial debate there wouldn’t have been much reason to watch the second one.
Except for the fact that this time, Jeff Landry and Richard Nelson were on the stage. That would have lent a little more substance to the affair.
But here’s the thing – almost nobody who had a preference for a gubernatorial candidate would have had that preference shaken. The debate changed very little of the dynamic of the race.
That isn’t so much a reflection of the debaters as the debate format and the questions. Landry’s camp had to be ecstatic about that, because the opportunities to land any punches on him were few and far between.
And none of the others did. Not really.
After all, the debate only lasted an hour, and the first 20 minutes were taken up by questions about abortion – and more specifically the state’s relatively strict anti-abortion law, and what exceptions ought to be made to it.
The fact is, abortion isn’t all that big an issue in Louisiana. When you consider that John Bel Edwards, who calls himself pro-life, has presided over some of the most aggressive anti-abortion bills passing over the past eight years – several of which were authored by Democrat Katrina Jackson in the Legislature – it’s pretty clear there’s a bipartisan consensus on the pro-life side. And if you didn’t know that before Friday night you surely knew it watching all of the candidates wax philosophical about how pro-life they are.
Which included Shawn Wilson, who is manifestly pro-abortion despite clumsily attempting to lie to the public about his position on abortion.
Wilson was reminiscent of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob in the famous Halloween episode, stepping on rake after rake in the yard…
He said he was “personally pro-life” but then he kept saying that he trusts the women in his life to make decisions about abortion, which was a word salad nobody else on the stage was willing to tolerate. So they kept bringing up his position and calling him pro-abortion, and per the debate rules Wilson would then get a few seconds for a rebuttal and he would repeat his Pro-Life But Not Pro-Life answer.
It was an utter disaster from the standpoint of trying to make himself palatable to the state’s political center.
Wilson was a clear loser in the debate based on that excruciating 20 minute struggle session alone. If there was a clear winner it was Landry, simply because he didn’t lose.
John Schroder tried to say that Landry was corrupt, but the only specifics which were discussed during the debate came from a Schroder ad which discussed a Texas trial lawyer who gave a $5000 donation to Landry before being sanctioned for dishonest behavior toward hurricane victims. Landry was able to at least partially rain on the allegations by noting that when he’s raised over $12 million in this campaign it’s pretty weak to think he could be bought for $5,000, and he also noted that the Louisiana Department of Insurance, rather than the attorney general’s office, is the place where insurance claims are primarily regulated and that conduct of attorneys is regulated by the state bar association and the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The anti-corruption line is Schroder’s bread and butter, but it doesn’t seem like it’s all that well-constructed. Everybody knows corruption is an issue here, but it isn’t a winning political issue because Louisiana voters are tolerant of corruption. Schroder also doesn’t offer any real specifics on how he’d solve the problem. So it just sort of sits there as something everybody nods about but isn’t actionable and won’t win Schroder any votes.
Stephen Waguespack had a good night, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him advance a little. Of all the contenders Waguespack and Richard Nelson seem to be the best “vision” candidates, presenting more of a policy-wonk approach to the issues. And it would be great if this election was more about what each candidate could offer along those lines. But 60-second answers to debate questions are just about the worst format possible to present complex policy solutions, and so Waguespack and Nelson were largely reduced to asking people to go to their websites for the details they couldn’t provide during the debate.
That’s a shame, because a viewer who didn’t immediately begin surfing the internet following that debate would have little ability to determine where the line between real policy proposals and snake oil is. And because of that, Friday night really wasn’t a game-changer for either.
It isn’t a bad bet that Wilson’s struggles will end up redounding to the benefit of Hunter Lundy, seeing as though Lundy is a lifelong Democrat trial lawyer along the lines of the people Louisiana’s Democrat voters have been electing and trying to elect for decades. Lundy, who is running as an independent and a Christian conservative but doesn’t really fool anybody, might peel off a lot of white Democrat voters who might otherwise consider voting for Wilson, though those aren’t enough to vault him over the only Democrat in the race. Lundy spent the whole debate essentially rambling about toxic tort cases and other big lawsuits he’s engaged in, which marked him as a cross between RFK Junior and Gerry Spence, but he didn’t offer anything on actually governing Louisiana other than he’s no friend to business and that he’d crater the state’s economy even worse than fellow Democrat trial lawyer Edwards has.
And then there was Sharon Hewitt, who at the end of the day we just don’t think does well in these condensed debate formats. She just never seemed to get going and struggled to say much of anything memorable.
All Landry needed to do was to hold serve, and he did that. Wilson’s performance was a disaster, but even clumsily holding himself out as the only pro-abortion candidate in the race was probably enough to secure himself a place in the runoff. As such, from an electoral standpoint the debate seemed to cement in place the status quo of a Landry-Wilson runoff.