It's official: The state Democratic Party won't field any statewide candidates this year. Still, poll numbers showed they had at least a chance. Are party brass starting to believe their own bad press?
The annual election-year rite of qualifying has passed. As a prelude to the tawdry claims and feigned antagonism that will color the fall election season, candidates came face-to-face in the Secretary of State's office to register their names on the ballot. Among the fray, however, there was a notable absence. Not a single Democrat with party backing signaled an intention to run for a post that requires candidates to be elected by the entire state. Governor. Lieutenant Governor. Attorney General. Even that Keeper of the Seal, the Secretary of State. Four races, no party-backed donkeys. (The governor's race had four Democrats: Gretna's Ivo "Trey" Roberts, Metairie's Cary J. Deaton, Baton Rogue's "Niki Bird" Papazoglakis and Haynesville teacher, Tara Hollis. But none are expected to get backing from Buddy Leach and co.)
The coulda-been candidates' statements for backing out nodded to the conventional wisdom that has been bandied about for weeks: Gov. Bobby Jindal has a war chest that would fit about 97 of Bill Jefferson's freezers. And, besides, no one in Louisiana likes Democrats anymore.
New Orleans lawyer and notable good old boy's daughter, Caroline Fayard, endured the kind of abuse that is reserved for actual candidates during her pre-election tour. First, she was thinking about maybe running for governor, but a little run-in with the state Republicans' messaging machine and thousands of bumper stickers later, expectations were lowered to Secretary of State. Besides, she lost the lieutenant governor's race last year, so stepping down a rung on the political ladder would allow her to get her feet wet.
At first, the luster of the state's Great Seal appeared to be shining bright in the pols' eyes, as the secretary of state's race was shaping up as the cycle's most crowded field. But the prospect apparently scared New-Orleans state rep. Walker Hines out of politics altogether, and former lieutenant gov. Scott Angelle didn't have the stomach for the race, either. Through it all, Fayard was the Democrats' only hope, as those two switched parties in preparation for the race earlier this year. In the end, though, she backed out, too.
Fayard said the secretary of state's race was “not the correct” path to leadership for her, and said her non-candidacy was not expected.
“…I hope it is seen as a demonstration of service above self,” she said.
But the good-of-the-party rhetoric spells things out as clearly as politispeak can. The party brass looked at the field, and saw the writing on the wall. With the state's electorate drifting right with the rest of the South, and a lot of general vitriol aimed at head D, President Barack Obama, the climate is tough for Democrats. So, the remaining two candidates – current SoS Tom Schedler and Speaker of the House, Jim Tucker – are left to battle it out for the head of the seal.
In the governor's race, cadrillionaire, John Georges, didn't signal whether he would run as a Democrat (which he did in the 2010 N.O. Mayor's race), or as an independent (which he did against Jindal last time around), but he did shoot up a last minute flareTrumpeting a new poll that showed he wouldn't fare so bad if John Georges shot up a flare this week that he might make a last-minute jump into the governor's race. And Georges seems to have thought about it until the last minute. His Facebook showed he planned to announce his decision at 2 p.m. Thursday – the final day of qualifying. When the time came, he asked for 15 more minutes, indicating that he was heading into the classic delayed entrance of a politician in waiting. Three minutes later, he delayed the announcement still more, saying, “I am making some phone calls.”
But, when the clock struck 2:22, he said he would not be running.
“I have given the race for governor serious consideration and although our polling shows i would be able to give Governor Jindal a tough race, there is simply not enough time to organize a statewide campaign,” he said. “I want to thanks all those who encouraged me to run for governor again. I believe i will be in a bettor position in four years.” (sic)
Jindal's presence rings throughout the statement. Waiting four years, and Bobby the Boy Wonder might already be up in Washington.
Still, that widely-used, if heavily flawed and over-relied-upon, election horse race rubric known as the poll told a different story in both races. A poll released by Fayard's campaign back in August showed her in a statistical dead heat with Tucker. The internal poll showed her running ahead of Tucker, 36-34 percent, with 23 percent undecided. When the undecided voters were redistributed to account for past party loyalties, the poll showed Fayard in the lead, 48-44 percent.
Georges used his own poll to lay the groundwork for his last-minute hype. The poll surveyed 600 people, and showed Jindal in the lead by 30 percentage points when participants were shown the two candidates' names side-by-side. But when a long, flowery paragraph that told voters about John Georges' business success and past service to the state was shown, Georges was running ahead of Jindal by one percentage point, 40-39.
And those weren't the only two examples. State Sen. Rob Marionneaux was also thinking about challenging Jindal, and showed virtually the same results as Georges. The gap in results between the questions that offered biographical information and the ones that didn't shows that the pair would have faced a serious uphill battle of letting the voters get to know them. But the polls still fly in the face of the conventional wisdom, which indicates the race was totally unwinnable.
Verne Kennedy, a veteran state pollster who conducted Georges' polls, said he was skeptical when he first saw the results of the Marionneaux poll.
"Candidly, I wasn't sure how accurate it was," Kennedy said.
But the Georges poll came out the same way, showing there might have been hope.
"We did not expect to produce the results where he was ahead of Jindal," Kennedy said last week.
By fronting no candidates, the Democrats may be pulling a play from their last true standard barer, Edwin Edwards. With defeat imminent in the Democratic primary, Edwards withdrew from the race, automatically electing Buddy Roemer, who at that time had a D next to his name. By withdrawing, Edwards laid all of the state's problems at the feet of Roemer in the next election, and ended up winning.
But, if they aren't, it seems there will be little else to blame on the other guy. The numbers may not have been favorable. But, this being politics, they could always be accused of lying.