Tuesday, April 11, 2006



by Tyler Bridges

Blanco's problem, everyone seems to agree, stems from her TV performances in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. She was hunkered down at the state's Emergency Operations Center, working on little sleep and looking haggard on early-morning programs.

Roy Fletcher worked as a campaign strategist for Blanco when she ran for governor briefly in 1991. (She ran out of money early and dropped out of the race.) They are fierce enemies now. Over breakfast at the College Drive Waffle House in Baton Rouge, he offers a typically harsh assessment of Blanco.

"With the national spotlight, you can't hide," Fletcher says, as he dips into his eggs (sunny side up) and bacon. "Her shortcomings became quite exposed. Her inability to articulate, her inability to think in a coherent and organized way and her inability to inspire any level of confidence came screaming out of the TV screen. That's what's burned into the public's mind.

In a poll, if you asked people to describe her, they would say: not very bright, the job's too big for her. People were astounded that you couldn't deliver water to [people stranded on] the f--ing interstate. Her legitimacy and popularity was gone in two weeks."

If Blanco does seek re-election, she may want to heed advice offered by (Former Governor Buddy) Roemer, who worked as a campaign manager before winning elective office himself.

Roemer says Blanco would have to abandon her normally cautious, consensus-building style and make some dramatic -- even unpopular -- decisions that clearly serve the state's long-term interest. "The only way for her to win," Roemer says, "is for people to think she has put aside her natural ambition and pride and put their futures ahead of her future."

Roemer likens her re-election chances to a singer's chances of getting a curtain call. "Kathleen has to figure out how to get an encore," Roemer says. "Some people say the audience forces an encore. I disagree. I think the performer forces an encore. I failed at getting an encore" when he lost his re-election race in 1991. "Some people blamed the state. They said to me, 'The people didn't get it.' No, that's wrong. It's the performer's fault. She needs an encore, and she can't depend on the audience to give it to her. She has to orchestrate it."

If she does decide to seek re-election, Blanco promises a fierce battle. "Anybody else who wants this job will have to come after me," she says, sounding now more like a candidate. "This state has never seen such a hard-working governor."

She laughs, then adds, "If I may say so myself."

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