Friday, February 24, 2006
by Jeff Crouere
With U.S. Senator David Vitter’s withdrawal from the 2007 Governor’s race, the stage is set for Congressman Bobby Jindal (R-Kenner) to take on Kathleen Blanco in a rematch of the 2003 contest. In the last race, the Democrat Blanco dispatched Jindal in a 52-48% vote. Much has been made of the fact that Jindal’s Indian heritage likely cost him votes in certain conservative areas of the state. Equally important in his loss was his campaign’s refusal to respond to hard hitting attacks from Blanco, who pounded Jindal on his signature issue, healthcare. Blanco effectively used a commercial with wheelchair bound Dr. Evan Howell, a Republican, who strongly criticized Jindal’s healthcare record. In the end, Jindal stayed on message and lost. Even though he won every debate, answered every question with facts and figures, and displayed uncommon understanding of the issues, Jindal still lost a hard fought race.
A few years are an eternity in politics and if the race were held today, Jindal would be the overwhelming favorite. He has performed admirably since Katrina and Rita, working hard for his state, traveling across Louisiana, and visiting with victims of the hurricanes. Jindal has been pushing a conservative agenda in Congress, but one that is decidedly pro-Louisiana. He has worked tirelessly for more recovery funding for the state and is sponsoring legislation to give Louisiana a larger share of offshore oil and gas revenues. He has not hesitated to criticize the Bush administration when warranted, most recently in the controversy over a United Arab Emirates owned company controlling port operations in cities like New Orleans.
In contrast, Blanco has been extremely lackluster since Katrina. Her leadership has been uninspiring, and her agenda has been flawed. Her relations with the Bush White House have never been good, harming Louisiana’s chances for strong administration support. In the latest SurveyUSA poll, Blanco has only a 32% approval rating, the third lowest among the country’s governors.
Right now, leading Democrats are desperately searching for another candidate. Commissioner of Agriculture Bob Odom is trying to convince former Senator John Breaux to make the race. But why would Breaux and his wife want to give up their comfortable lifestyle in Washington D.C. to return to hurricane ravaged Louisiana and deal with plenty of difficult problems? Breaux is a high priced lobbyist who has lived in the nation’s capital for decades. Would he be willing to return home to face a mountain of troubles during such a challenging time? Since leaving his Senate position, Breaux has been practically invisible, not taking a leading role in the recovery efforts from the hurricanes. He would indeed be a stronger candidate than Blanco, but not a sure bet in a state that is tending more Republican since the Katrina evacuation.
With the displacement of hundreds of thousands of New Orleans voters due to Katrina, primarily African-American Democrats, Republican candidates stand a better chance of statewide victory. Undoubtedly, a percentage of these voters will settle in other states or not bother to vote from distant locations in upcoming elections.
Both U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and Governor Blanco won their races with only 52% of the vote, their margin provided by strong African-American support in New Orleans. With Katrina creating a much smaller Crescent City, it will likely lead to a totally different dynamic in the next election, making victory for Democrats more difficult.
The new demographics of Louisiana could be one reason why Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu is forgoing a race for Governor to run for Mayor of New Orleans, a race he has a much better chance of winning. Landrieu would have also been a stronger candidate than Blanco, but he has his own shortcomings, primarily his sister, Senator Landrieu, who has a high 49% disapproval rating, 14% higher than Vitter.
In the upcoming election, Jindal will have an advantage he did not have four years ago, a coveted congressional seat. In 2007, Jindal can tout his record and his ability to improve the state’s relationship with a Congress and White House that is under GOP control. In addition, Jindal has learned the lessons of 2003 well and will not allow unwarranted attacks to go unanswered.
Right now, 19 months from Election Day, it looks like Bobby Jindal is in the catbird seat. This amount of time is a lifetime in politics, so anything can happen, but Democrats like Odom realize their unfortunate predicament. In the last few years, Jindal has done a good job of building relationships across the state. He will use this expanded network to launch his campaign for governor. It is a job that he has wanted for many years and one that at this point has his name on it.