Friday, October 10, 2003
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
NOTES FROM THE OUTSIDE
The first woman
governor in Louisiana’s history, or the
youngest governor in the nation who happens to be an Indian American?
These choices in a Louisiana run-off election? Who would have predicted
it? But if you have been following political events here in recent
weeks, it’s really no surprise.
with good methodology have for weeks been predicting the exact
order of finish for major candidates in the governor’s
race. Republican Bobby Jindal and Lieutenant Governor Kathleen
Blanco have been running one, two for the past three weeks. Almost
without exception, every reliable poll run in recent weeks listed
an order of finish that showed Attorney General Richard Ieyoub
third, former Congressman Buddy Leach, fourth, former Senate President
Randy Ewing, fifth, Representative Hunt Downer, sixth. Probably
the most reliable pollster was Verne Kennedy from Pensacola, Florida,
who ran regular polls for months at the request of a North Louisiana
business group. On the day before the election, Kennedy indicated
that Jindal would lead with 31%, followed by Blanco with 17 and
Ieyoub coming up short with 15. His numbers were not far off.
candidates don’t hesitate to spend a significant
part of their campaign budget on polling. Information is power.
There are a number of messages candidates want to present to the
public, but with a thirty-second commercial with only fifty-five
words to spare, picking the strongest message becomes paramount.
It’s obvious that the top two finishers were right on point,
and that other candidates, predicted to be much higher up at the
finish line, either didn’t effectively poll, or didn’t
follow the advice given.
A few thoughts on the major candidates:
Jindal - The touted fairhaired wiz kid had two important
things going for him. Governor Mike Foster, and solid advice on
reviving the use of radio.
consultants will tell you that radio is passé but
Jindal has brought radio back to the forefront. His heavy expenditures
on radio ads, particularly on talk show stations early in the campaign,
solidified his conservative base. Talk radio caters to white males
and Jindal strongly pulled away from Hunt Downer and Jay Blossman
with this group.
You would think
that other candidates would have used radio more effectively.
Governor Mike Foster advertised extensively on radio
when he ran for Governor eight years ago, and has hosted his weekly “Live
Mike!” talk radio show for the past eight years. No doubt
the success of Mike Foster’s radio was a major influence
on a similar use by Jindal.
And far from
staying quietly behind the scenes, Governor Foster was out front
from the get-go making public appearances, working
the telephone, and organizing support on Jindal’s behalf.
I don’t believe Jindal would have come close to making the
run off without the Governor’s strong support.
Blanco - The Lt. Gov. lead the field from early on, but conventional
wisdom by political insiders predicted she would fade
toward the end. She didn’t. A strong base of women, particularly
African-American women stayed with her all the way. A number of
political pundits felt that African-American political organizations
would peal away much of the Blanco black support. It’s apparent
they haven’t kept up to date with African-American voters
as a whole. Fifteen years ago, political organizations called the
shots with paper ballots. Many African-American women were new
to the work force, making lower wages. It’s different today.
You see these same women making significantly more money, become
computer literate, and independent in their thinking. They are
taken by the fact that the state’s second highest elected
official is a woman who has raised six children. They can identify
with this. Go girl. They stuck with Blanco regardless of the ballots
or urgings otherwise from black political organizations.
No one worked
harder over a longer period of time that Blanco. She started
early, and worked in a number of ways non-stop. No
one traveled the state more. Over the life of the campaign, Blanco
became the strongest “hands-on” candidate. A retail
politician, she worked one on one more than any other candidate.
A short side story that has nothing to do with her campaigning.
Friends of mine here in Baton Rouge have never met Kathleen Blanco.
They had lost a son in a tragic accident. The phone rang one Sunday
afternoon, and Blanco asked to speak to the mother. She related
how she too had lost a son in a tragic accident, and spent an hour
on the phone sharing their mutual grievances. The couple initially
were Ieyoub supporters, but told the story often. It was a genuine
expression from one mother to another, but it showed the ability
of Kathleen Blanco to reach out.
And when the
barbs started flying as Election Day approached, she showed a
toughness in her response that kept Ieyoub and Leach
from gaining ground. Don’t underestimate her. She’s
got a tough hide, and can stand toe to toe with any male candidate.
Ieyoub - It’s hard to explain how the Attorney General
had more endorsements than all of the other candidates combined,
was well-financed but just couldn’t find any traction to
gain ground in the closing weeks of the campaign. If you know Richard
Ieyoub, he’s extremely personable, generally has a big smile
on his face, and is surrounded by an attractive and intelligent
wife with seven kids. Unfortunately, many voters just didn’t
warm up to Ieyoub. His campaign was hard edged, and often un-focused.
You weren’t sure just what the message was. He picked messages
that didn’t seem to relate with the public. His final TV
spot centered around the governor’s office awarding out of
state contracts. His black and white picture was cropped on the
screen in an unflattering way. The commercial ran day after day,
and most people I’ve talked to felt, “Well, he makes
a good point, but it’s not that big of a deal”. A decent
candidate who would have made a good governor just didn’t
get some good advice.
Ieyoub, he’s not going to just fade away.
If John Breaux doesn’t run for re-election to the U. S. Senate,
Ieyoub will not doubt be a candidate.
Leach – The
one candidate who was very specific with some interesting ideas
that should have had much wider appeal to
a populist state like Louisiana. Taxing imported Arab oil, finding
ways to obtain more affordable prescription drugs. Both issues
should have resonated more with voters. Leach spent way too much
money early on, and gave the impression he was going to spend enormous
sums of his own money. This combined with a highly publicized effort
to garner African-American support with his own funds kept him
from growing towards the end.
is better on the stump than looking in the camera. I think his
campaign make a mistake by not following him around
with a TV camera. He energizes a crowd, and was dynamic on stage.
Unfortunately, the public at large didn’t see this picture
of the former Congressman. He was on the mark with key specific
issues. You need the substance, but you need the pizzazz in getting
your message across.
Ewing - A moderate, consensus building candidate who could probably
have beaten anybody in the runoff. He just couldn’t
get there. Ewing had a strong business message, but was “boxed
in” on both the left and the right by other candidates. He
just couldn’t find the growing room. If he would have switched
to become a Republican six or seven months ago a la Mike Foster,
I believe Ewing could have quickly become the consensus Republican
that might have kept Jindal and Downer out of the race. But he
chose to stay a Democrat, and with a smaller population base in
North Central Louisiana he just couldn’t find a strong enough
base on which to grow. The open primary system worked against Ewing,
just like it did to Bubba Henry in 1979 and Jim Brown in 1987.
He was a consensus building moderate who was blocked by candidates
positioned more strongly to the left and the right. A good guy
who ran an honorable campaign.
Downer - He was Mike Foster’s choice from the get go
and could well have been in Bobby Jindal’s place now if he
and the Governor hadn’t fallen out. Downer philosophically
could not support some the Governor’s key tax proposals,
and the Foster team moved away from Downer picking up Jindal. Downer
tried to find an independent conservative path, but really never
got off of the ground. Once Jindal took his message to conservative
radio, Downer’s support quickly faded. Downer had some solid
support from Congressman Billy Tauzin and key players in the Republican
party. But his campaign let the momentum get away and he just never
could catch up.
Blossman - The Public Service Commissioner dropped out in the final week
of the campaign and threw his support behind Downer.
I’m sure he knew Downer had virtually no chance, and it was
a slap at Jindal. Blossman is young, and will be on the political
scene for some time to come. He was notable in one of the gubernatorial
debates where health care was the issue. I have been dealing with
the uninsured and the cost of health insurance for the last twelve
years. There is just no easy state solution, and we are going to
have to get major help from Washington. As each candidate addressed
the issue, they made incremental suggestions but basically offered
a little more than band-aid solutions. When it came to Blossman’s
turn, he looked at the camera and candidly stated: “I just
don’t have any idea what we should do”. Many political
observers chuckled, and felt he stumbled. The next day, I was with
several doctors who had watched the debate. They all agreed the
only straight-forward, honest answer came from Blossman.
Why wasn’t there more excitement in the first primary? The
weather couldn’t have been better; but participation was
significantly off the pace of years past. Why couldn’t the
candidates get voters more energized? Several reasons:
First of all,
there was little controversy on issues. I heard numerous comments
from viewers of the debates that, question after
question, the candidates generally gave the same answers. They
often spoke in generalities without getting specific. Leach was
an exception, but needed more time to explain his sometimes controversial
positions. He couldn’t do that in a one minute response.
played a factor in the lack of interest. Despite the fact that
the Leach campaign seemed to have unlimited resources,
the amount spent was significantly lower than in years past. If
you go back to 1971, some 20 million dollars was spent in the first
primary by the candidates running at that time. That’s 34
million dollars in today’s money. The candidates running
in this year’s election spent much less.
also harder for a candidate to get his message across today.
With the advent of cable and satellite TV, a large number
of voters often are not watching network television where political
commercials are generally run. For a message to get through, television
commercials often have to be run on the same station ten to fifteen
times. Yet many potential voters are watching movies on cable or
sitcom reruns. They are just not seeing the amount of advertising
that has been viewed in the past.
I also have
a personal theory that Louisiana voters are distracted by national
issues that have become more dominate. 9-11, the war
in Iraq, national controversies from CIA links to Rush Limbaugh,
all compete for the attention of the average voter. Maybe they
think it doesn’t make a lot of difference who wins many of
these important races. I disagree, but I think there is some element
of this in the mix of voter apathy.
So what do the two run-off candidates do now? What is the strategy
that can potentially move 51% of the voters to their respective
Jindal. He needs both a defensive strategy as well
as an offensive approach.
he needs to prepare himself for an on-slaught of negative advertising
about some of the conservative positions he
took on radio. Jindal in debates and on television came across
as a fiscal conservative with moderate views. But his rhetoric
on radio was much more right-wing. The majority of voters don’t
know the Bobby Jindal who started his campaign momentum with the “Conservative
Radio Network”. He should get ready to be painted as a right-wing
conservative who is out of step with the main stream of Louisiana.
The fact remains that a majority of the voters still don’t
really know Bobby Jindal. He is going to have some defining to
do as he is being painted much too extreme for Louisiana.
In addition, offensively, Jindal is facing an uphill battle in
what is still a predominantly Democratic state. It is just hard
for a Republican to get elected against a moderate in a run-off.
Mike Foster won two recent races, but in both instances, he faced
an African-American head up. Buddy Roemer switched to the Republican
party after he had been elected as a Democrat. The only Republican
in this century to be elected under normal election conditions
was Dave Treen. You will remember that the other four top Democrats
in the race all endorsed Treen. Challenger Louis Lambert was tied
down for weeks because of an election challenge by Jimmy Fitzmorris.
In spite that all that was going for him, Treen only won the election
by 10.000 votes.
Jindal needs a “black strategy” that can
get him African-American votes. Without 20% of the African-American
vote, Jindal can’t win. And such a percentage is possible
for Jindal with the right strategy. He will have to make a direct
appeal as a minority himself to build some identification with
the African-American community. If he does this, he has a chance
Blanco has a different challenge…one of consolidation.
There are some bitter feelings that will linger in the camps of
other candidates she defeated. She is going to have to pull all
of those groups together, and be prepared to listen to any number
of requests. How she keeps feathers from being ruffled and, in
the short time until the run off, develops a coordinated pecking
order, will determine whether of not she can win the election.
She needs to
immediately consolidate Democratic congressional delegation support.
Key supporters of both Senator John Breaux
and Mary Landrieu were actively involved in the Ieyoub camp. No
member of Congress publicly supported Blanco. She is going to have
to quickly consolidate her support, and request appearances and
help in raising contributions, and bring on active support of various
congressional factions. Blanco needs to build a little bit more “toughness” in
her rhetoric in taking on future problems. In addition, she needs
to sound more like a visionary, and offer more hope. Her ads in
the first primary were a little sentimental in this regard, and
voters who were impressed with Jindal’s intellect will be
expecting more from Blanco this time.
Under normal conditions, Blanco would be favored. Jindal is a
different kind of candidate; this is going to be a horse race.
Both candidates have their work cut out for them in the weeks to
in Louisiana, candidates seek all the endorsements they can get;
whether they come from other elected officials, business
and labor groups, or newspapers. This election proved that endorsements
just do not make that much difference. In an earlier poll, Verne
Kennedy asked voters to indicate their feelings about endorsements.
The response was that newspaper endorsements make very little difference,
and in some markets, particularly in New Orleans, endorsements
can actually be a negative. The endorsement of key public officials,
particularly in the New Orleans area, caused as many negative as
positive responses. Richard Ieyoub had more endorsements than all
the other gubernatorial candidates put together. It didn’t
seem to make any significant difference.
in years past have tried to use their favorable rating to elect
various candidates. But Edwin Edwards in the 1970’s,
despite his popularity, was not very successful. The same can be
said for the endorsements Governor Foster has made. His popular
rating is high but it is not transferable. In summary, Louisiana
voters generally make up their own minds, and are not swayed by
endorsements. They just don’t make much difference.
OTHER STATEWIDE RACES
Governor – Mitch Landrieu won a major first primary
victory. And few thought it was possible. He was taking on a former
Lieutenant Governor as well as a popular former central Louisiana
Congressman and a respected African-American Republican. He won
handedly with 53% of the vote. Having a sister who is a United
States Senator, another sister who is a New Orleans judge and a
father who is the former mayor of New Orleans helped him get off
to a good jump start. But he brought a lot of electricity to his
campaign, and is being touted as the new young rising star in the
Democratic party. His television and radio commercials were hands
down the best of any candidate in the race. Media consultants Rannah
Gray and George Kennedy produced contemporary, exciting spots and
painted Landrieu as enthusiastic, no nonsense public official who
is anxious to get to work for Louisiana. A number of people expressed
the view that is he had been running for Governor, with the quality
of his commercials; he might have made the runoff. This is a possibility
for Landrieu in the future.
General - Susie Terrell started of as the odds on favorite,
but was overcome at the end by a well-financed New Orleans Sheriff
Charlie Foti, who coalesced strong Democratic support. Terrell
too, was no doubt hurt by some of the lingering bitterness left
over from the U. S. Senate race. Foti was fortunate that their
was only two candidates in the race. A run off would have benefited
Terrell where traditionally, more Democratic voters stay home.
of Agriculture - Bob Odom is hands-down, the hardest campaigning
public official I’ve ever met. He doesn’t
miss a thing. I’ve never seen anyone criss-cross the state,
night after night, attending every conceivable public event, like
Bob Odom. When a public official has a fund raiser or needs a speaker,
Bob Odom is always there. I thought I had seen it all until a few
nights before the election. I was at home in Baton Rouge around
6:30 in the evening preparing to attend a fund raiser for Mitch
Landrieu my wife and I were co-hosting. The door bell rang. When
I opened the door, there was Bob Odom’s wife, Millie, to
give me a brochure and ask me to vote for Bob. She didn’t
know I lived there. She was going door-to-door, along with several
friends across the street, campaigning like Bob was running for
police juror. Virtually no candidate goes door to door anymore.
Here’s the wife of the Commissioner of Agriculture doing
so in a statewide race. Bob, of course, was at the fund raiser
for Mitch and slipped out early because he still had two events
to attend before the night was over. It’s no wonder he is
the longest serving state-wide elected official, and easily wins
re-election time after time.
So what are some of the new issues and creative ideas candidates
for governor should be talking about? I will supply a whole list
in the next column. Remember, I too ran for Governor some years
I have just
re-read Charles Frazier’s enchanting first novel,
Cold Mountain. The author won the National Book Award, and the
movie version starring Nichol Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Jude
Law and Donald Sutherland will be out over the Christmas holidays.
which takes place during the Civil War, pays homage to Homer’s The
Odyssey. Frazier’s lyrical writing follows
the journey of a wounded Confederate soldier during his 300 mile-journey
on foot back home to the woman he loves. Frazier writes with eloquence
of a chaotic and impoverished land in the last months of the Civil
War. There is a sense of purpose and destiny in the mix of characters
each trying to escape the ruined world. Frazier, who studied at
my Alma Mater, the University of North Carolina, is a story teller
with soul. There is a lot of sadness in the book; there are also
hopes for new beginnings. Isn’t that what life is all about?
There are a few novels I will reread every four or five years.
This book is one of them. The movie that cost 80 million dollars
will no doubt be a big success. You will enjoy it all the more
if you read Cold Mountain in the months to come.
our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of .
All issues are political issues.
Henry David Thoreau
The more you read about politics, the more you
Got to admit that each party is worse than the other.
Peace and justice to you and your family,
Visit Jim Brown’s web-site at www.jimbrownla.com.
You can also find his column listed with other Louisiana political
news at www.politicsla.com.