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Friday, October 10, 2003

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


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.

Reliable pollsters 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.

Successful 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:

Bobby 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.

Most political 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.

Kathleen 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.

Richard 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.

Knowing Richard 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.

Buddy 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.

Buddy Leach 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.

Randy 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.

Hunt 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.

Jay 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.

Money also 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.

It’s 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 camps?

First, Bobby Jindal. He needs both a defensive strategy as well as an offensive approach.

Defensively, 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.

Simply put, 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 of winning.

Kathleen 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 come.



Traditionally, 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.

Popular governors 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.


Lieutenant 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.

Attorney 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.

Commissioner 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 ago.


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.

The story, 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.


In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of .

Politics”. 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.

Will Rogers


Peace and justice to you and your family,

Jim Brown

PS: 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.


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