With 29 months until the election, race for governor heating up

By JOHN MAGINNIS

and JEREMY ALFORD

LaPolitics.com

With the next governor’s election a mere 29 months away, prospective candidates are getting down to the first order of business, which is raising the money to fund whatever they decide to do.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne reportedly raked in $118,000 at a recent New Orleans event. But the real news was the host and location: national Republican consultant Mary Matlin, from her Uptown mansion she shares with Democratic consultant James Carville, her husband.

Dardenne has yet to officially announce for governor, but has said he intends to run and has held five fundraisers around the state so far this year, according to his fundraising consultant Sally Nungesser.

“I love what I’m doing and I will continue to do that for the balance of my term,” Dardenne told LaPolitics.

Other Republicans on the fence or near it are Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Treasurer John Kennedy, state Sen. Gerald Long of Winnfield, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, among others.

Vitter has said he has made no decision about running for governor, but, like Dardenne, he has taken steps to prepare in case he does. The junior senator will be attending events hosted by a new political action committee that was set up to support him in either state or federal elections.

Theirs are the strongest financial moves being made, but others are expected to follow suit and potentially compete in a crowded gubernatorial field, particularly among Republicans. Dardenne told the Washington publication Roll Call, “(You) have to show people that you’re a viable candidate that ought to be in a gubernatorial race.”

Leading the Democratic pack so far is state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, who hosted a large event in Hammond before the regular session convened. He said it brought in, along with smaller fundraisers preceding it, more than $300,000. In 2012, he raised just $61,000 and went into 2013 with about $37,000 in the bank.

Among Democrats, he remains the only committed candidate. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is said to be comfortable where he is for now. The mayor’s sister, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, is gearing up for her own tough re-election campaign. She is the only statewide elected Democrat in Louisiana.

Bernie Pinsonat, president of Southern Media and Opinion Research in Baton Rouge, said Mitch Landrieu, who has more than $1 million in his war chest, is the real wild card among Democrats and looms as Edwards’ biggest political obstacle.

Jim Bernhard, former CEO of the Shaw Group in Baton Rouge and one-time chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, is rumored to be considering the race, especially following whispers that President Barack Obama had him on the short list for energy secretary. Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is a perennial maybe candidate, too, with a populist twist.

“There will be others,” said state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, current chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party. “I have heard interest from different people, although I can’t reveal who they are.”

Republicans are certainly ready, at least from a financial standpoint. Here is what possible GOP candidates reported in their end-of-2012 state campaign accounts:

—Kennedy, the most disciplined dialer for dollars: $2.33 million

—Normand: nearly $1.3 million

—Dardenne: $718,000

—Caldwell: $406,000

—Long: $282,000

—Strain: $235,000

—Angelle: $107,000

Vitter, meanwhile, has not put a dollar in his state campaign account since 2003, before he began running for the Senate. But there is a political action committee, or PAC, that has been set up to support him, starting with a $5,000-a-head, two-day September fundraiser.

The Sept. 5 event is being put on by the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, a super PAC organized earlier this year that can make independent expenditures to support him in either state or local elections. Candidates may not directly solicit money for such groups, but they can attend their events.

The invitations for the two-day event refers to the Louisiana level for donations to PACs, stating the group “may accept contributions up to $100,000 per election cycle from individuals, corporations and other organizations.”

The invite promises an “exciting adventure” in south Louisiana’s “swamps and bayous.” The “Louisiana Bayou Weekend,” as it is being called, will also feature Cajun cooking, airboat swamp tours and, of course, an alligator hunt.

In the meantime, Edwards and other likely candidates are already on a hunt of their own, trying to capture whatever reverse momentum might be working against Jindal.

With favorability ratings lower than Obama’s in Louisiana, Jindal has faced challenges following legal decisions against his landmark education and retirement reform packages; poor performances on the national presidential circuit; and a tax-swap plan that was pronounced dead before the current legislative session even convened.

The governor’s budgets, always accompanied by shortfalls and mid-year cuts, are likewise causing him political heartburn. All of it has created a perfect political opportunity for one or more future candidates to run against a governor who is actually leaving office.

“I think it’s clear to people in this state that the governor has placed personal ambition above their welfare,” Edwards said. “His policies more than anything are causing people who have voted Republican over the last few election cycles to realize there is a cost associated.”

Pinsonat agreed. Republicans have been on a roll since 2011, he said, claiming the state House, Senate and all but one statewide office, including the federal seats. But recently he said Jindal has become a liability.

“His cuts to hospitals and higher education and mental health facilities and all that may or may not affect that race,” the pollster said. “It could help push lower- and middle-income voters away from Republicans and make this thing achievable. That is something to be watched, and it is showing up in polls. But that’s right now. The election is a long ways off.”

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