Political Horizons for July 16, 2011

Key race may not gel in ’11

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the last of the bills from the 2011 regular legislative session last week, marking the official end of the season.

It’s like the day after Thanksgiving, when all that Pilgrim stuff can be dumped so that halls can be decked for the upcoming Christmas season. In the world of Louisiana politics, ’tis the season to jockey for elective offices. Usually the star of the season is the race for governor. But that may not gel this year.

Instead, the six other offices elected in statewide races are abuzz with activity in the weeks leading to the official sign-up, known as qualifying, Sept. 6-8.

Old hands, such as House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown; Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan; and Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources Scott Angelle, are said to be flirting with the idea of challenging incumbents for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, as well as commissioners for insurance and agriculture. Newer faces, such as Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser; state Rep. Walker Hines, R-New Orleans; and New Orleans lawyer Caroline Fayard, also are looking to draw voters on Oct. 22 for their bids to statewide office.

Usually the incentive to vote — rather than hunt or tailgate — is provided by the top of the ballot, where Jindal stands without formidable opponents, at least for now.

Recently released polls show Jindal’s favorable ratings — “Do you like the governor?” — at just over 50 percent of the sample questioned, while his “re-elect” numbers — “Will you vote for him again?” — are in the 30s.

Jindal’s pollsters probably are getting much higher numbers but the campaign isn’t sharing those results publicly.

State Sen. Rob Marionneaux,D- Grosse Tete, said Friday he wants to run his own poll to see if Jindal is as unpopular with voters as Marionneaux suspects, based on comments he has heard from teachers, state employees and others. A poll finding that 40 percent to 50 percent of the state’s voters have a favorable opinion of Jindal would translate into vulnerability, Marionneaux said. With $5 million to $7 million and 90 days, he said, an aggressive candidate could make the race close.

If the polling and the money stars align by the beginning of August, Marionneaux said he would be that candidate.

Jindal’s campaign finance reports released in April showed a $9.5 million war chest. The reports also indicate that he continues to hire a handful of firms staffed by slick politicos who got their start with Haley Barbour or the Republican National Committee that the current Mississippi governor once headed. These professionals handle Jindal’s in-depth polling and strategy. They produce the soft-focus television commercials in which Jindal promises not to raise taxes, and they print handbills in which Jindal boasts of protecting the future of Louisiana’s children.

Jindal’s campaign finance reports show that he also is continuing to use the technique called “micro polling,” which merges consumer and social databases with voting records, from which Jindal can target a specific message to a specific group of voters likely to hold similar views on issues.

Evidence would suggest that Jindal does better when he has an adversary. For instance, in May, Jindal flailed away at phantom legislators he claimed were hell-bent on passing tax increases.

Jindal’s top aide, Timmy Teepell, said last week the governor would prefer competition in October, but acknowledged Jindal may not get a formidable opponent. If that’s the case, Jindal would continue to campaign for re-election but also would spend a lot time and money helping candidates for the Legislature, Teepell said.

Teepell, who earlier this month stepped down from running Jindal’s day-to-day government operation to handle his re-election campaign, said the governor wants to help elect legislators who share his vision of “conservative reform.”

Will the down-ballot races be enough to attract voters on a hunting and football weekend?

In October 2007, Jindal polled 699,275 votes — or 54 percent of those cast in a competitive race. But only 46 percent of the state’s 2.8 million registered voters took the time. That means Jindal was the choice of only one of every four voters in 2007.