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Thursday, 30 September 2010 16:35

Could Tea Party Quake Affect Louisiana Lt. Governor's race

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tidmoreJust as Christine O’Donnell 53-47 victory over former Governor and current Congressman Mike Castle in Delaware’s US Senate race shocked the political establishment, just as Joe Miller’s similar 51-49 victory did over sitting Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, some wonder if the same Tea Party surge might also aid GOP Chairman Roger Villere in his bid for Lt. Governor.

Villere has earned the endorsements of the Tea Party of Louisiana (a group from Baton Rouge).  One of the only ones the Chairman has not won outright, the Baton Rouge Tea Party, sits in his principal opponent’s, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne’s, hometown.


The Baton Rouge Tea Party of Louisiana opted to make no endorsement, and in a breaking story, The Louisiana Weekly has learned that Villere earned the majority of their votes, over 50%, but was shy by a handful of ballots to win the supermajority needed.

Not a problem for the GOP Chairman; he’s won activist conservatives virtually everywhere else, despite the fact that Secretary Dardenne has appeared before and attempted to woo the Tea Party members on multiple occasions.   It has not worked, so far.

Tea Party of Louisiana board member Chairman Christopher Comeaux voiced a series of “robocalls” for Villere’s campaign.  The message criticized Dardenne, who as a Republican State Senator voted “22 times for taxes” and for backing the "Stelly Tax Swap" during his 15 years in the legislature before being elected secretary of state in November 2006.

"We don’t like Republicans who are for big tax increases, running for office," Comeaux said. "Jay Dardenne is number one on our list who we don’t care for."   Strong words in a year that has seen some of the most powerful and entrenched GOP leaders fall before an angry political base concerned that Republican Brahmins have not opposed big government actively enough.

Dardenne replied that his votes for tax cuts far outstrip any tax increases for which he might have voted, that on balance he is a candidate the tea partiers should find acceptable—hence his attempts to gain their backing.

In a public statement, Dardenne said, "My quarrel is not with the tea party; it’s with the misinformation about me, particularly when that information is disseminated without me being given the opportunity to address it."

The Secretary noted that several of the Senate votes outlined on the Tea Party of Louisiana website relate to renewals of existing taxes — not for new taxes. As for his support of “Stelly”, which eliminated the 4% state sales tax on food, did away with itemized deductions, and correspondingly raised income taxes for some middle and upper income earners, Dardenne has argued that voters ratified the measure in a statewide constitutional vote.

The Secretary of State blames the GOP Chairman for “financing these kind of attacks on a fellow Republican” according to one statement, but Villere explained to The Louisiana Weekly, “I haven’t gone negative.  I haven’t attacked Jay personally.   I’m just pointing out his voting record.  That’s relevant information.”

Especially relevant as Villere runs on the tea party members’ most fundamental plank: abolishing state income taxes.  Villere wants Louisiana to adopt a constitutional limit on spending increases, similar to Colorado’s TABOR [Tax Payer Bill of Rights] that would limit the state budget’s pace of growth to around the rate of inflation or increase in population.   Over a period of years, income taxes, under this model could be phased out, Villere argued to the Weekly, without endangering critical government services.

Dardenne remains skeptical of the idea, concerned about the costs of critical services being covered with such a drop in revenue.

Still, several polls have acknowledged two facts: Jay Dardenne remains the frontrunner and is guaranteed of a runoff slot, and at the same time, he has eroded support consistently since early summer.

Prior to May, several polls showed Dardenne at 47%.  That hard support fell to 20% in a WWL poll in August, and even lower in an automated survey of “chronic” voters less than three weeks ago.

In the recent CMS poll, the Secretary remained the favorite in the Lt. Gubernatorial race with the support of 16% of the respondents. Country-Western singer Sammy Kershaw ranked in second place at 13%.  Democrat Caroline Fayard and Roger Villere follow at 11% and 9%, respectively, with St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis in a statistical tie at 7% (his ranking in the WWL poll a month before).

Moreover, Dardenne’s challenge is the likely low turnout nature of the October 2nd election.  While he has far more name recognition statewide than his opponents, the smaller core of voters likely to go to the polls, less than 20% turnout expected according to some estimates, makes a survey of “chronic” voters a perhaps more accurate sample than previous polls. (Louisiana’s hotly contested US Senate election will no be held until November 2nd.)

The CMS automated telephone survey was conducted on September 7th among 881 randomly selected voters who have participated in at least three of the state’s four recent major elections. Interestingly, the survey reveals that approximately one-third of Louisiana’s chronic voters remain undecided just three weeks before voting begins, with the remainder supporting lesser candidates.

Since the poll came out, Kershaw has experienced a series of advertising attacks on his bankruptcy filings, while at the same time the Country-Western singer has attempted to woo the Tea Party himself by singing at the Tea Party Express’s national meeting.  No one is sure where those undecided ballots will go, but historically, last minute votes tend to go to the surging candidates.

However, in an attempt to bunk this trend and keep his second place position, Kershaw has spent his final week in a three day, marathon "Louisiana Hayride" campaign swing that has seen the singer do events in Rayville, Winnsboro, Vidalia, Jonesville, Marksville, Pineville, and New Roads, concluding in Gonzales at Cabela's at 6:30 PM on Wednesday, September 29th. The singer sees that he has a unique appeal in pledging not to run for any other office while Lt. Governor.

Despite this pledge, Kershaw's polls have remained fixed at roughly 13% in nearly every poll recently, while the most interesting finding in the September 7th survey indicates that two candidates, Roger Villere and Carolne Fayard, have drastically jumped in support, relative to their rivals and compared to previously published independent polls.  It is a surge that by most accounts has continued throughout this month and has begun to break the undecided votes their way.

Early in the race, it looked as if the Democratic electorate would concentrate around Democratic State Senator Butch Gautreaux

The Morgan City Legislator, upon announcing for Lt. Gov.., quickly gained the support of the State's largest Parish Democratic committee by an overwhelming margin, winning the endorsement at the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee.   Closely after that nod came the backing of the lionshare Parish Dem. EC’s, the Louisiana AFL-CIO and the State Senate Leadership, Senators Joel Chaisson and Sharon Weston Broome.  Then, several of his Senatorial colleagues jump on including Karen Carter Peterson (D – New Orleans), Rob Marionneaux (D - Livonia) and Eric LaFleur (D – Ville Platte).

In recent weeks, though, Gautreaux’s campaign has seemed to stall through lack of money and a perception that the excitement was concentrating behind fellow Democrat Caroline Fayard.  Bill Clinton held a fundraiser for her.    The 32 year old Loyola Law Professor began a TV advertising blitz that featured ads in Saints games and spoke of new beginnings in Louisiana Government.

That’s a danger for Villere.  The Chairman’s chance of making a runoff has been based on four factors: Sammy Kershaw's name recognition support not translating to chronic voters likely to turnout on Oct 2nd, Kevin Davis remaining at his current 7% perch in the polls, the tea party surge continuing on Villere's behalf, and the Democratic electorate's trend to remain divided between Gautreaux, Fayard, and to a lesser extent the third Democrat Jim Crowley.

A candidate who can unify the Democratic base makes the chances of an all GOP runoff problematic. Still, odds are in Villere's favor here.   Gautreaux,despite his money problems as compaired to Fayard, continues to run actively, and Fayard admits that she faces a challenge bringing together the Democratic base vote thanks to the state party establishment, for the most part, remaining behind the State Senator (though, the Loyola Professor believes that process of the majority of Democrats assembling behind her bid is underway.)

Villere, though, has an advantage that both Fayard and Davis lack--the 3rd Congressional District Republican runoff.   Jeff Landry nearly surged to victory in August over Hunt Downer, in large part, thanks to the Tea Party of Louisiana's "Down with Downer" campaign.

After Landry came within 200 votes of defeating the retired Major General in the GOP first primary, the Tea Party of LA's Comeaux called called on Hunt Downer to withdraw from the congressional "Second Primary"

"Tonight, the liberty-minded citizens of Congressional District 3 sent Hunt Downer and RINOs everywhere a message," Chris Comeaux said. "Mr. Downer should do what’s in the best interest of the liberty movement and withdraw from this race. It’s not going to get any easier for him."

And it has not.   The Republican State Executive Committee endorsed Landry shortly just days after the first primary.  The term RINO (meaning "Republican In Name Only.") continued to be applied somewhat unfairly but effectively to Downer, who in 2003 was the most conservative candidate for Governor of Louisiana--to the right of Bobby Jindal.

Comeaux has claimed that Downer cannot win the election and has forced Landry to spend hundreds of thousands of unnecessary dollars that could otherwise be used to fight his well-financed Democratic opponent in November.

Many of the same voters that pushed Landry into a near victory are the same voters likely to cast their ballots for Villere come Saturday.   However, it is worth noting that turnout in the 3rd District hovered at 20% in August.

No one debates that if an open primary were currently in force (as it will be for all Federal elections after Jan. 1, 2011) Downer's popularity with Independents and Democrats would have provided an easy win against Landry and virtually any Democrat last month.  Some even argue that a higher Republican turnout could push Downer over the top in next Saturday's GOP runoff.

A September campaign that has focused on Landry's ethics and questionable business deals might allow for a Downer restoration.  The unknown is whether those excess votes, above the original 20%, would then also vote for Villere, Davis, or Dardenne.

Downer who has noted his personal opposition to tax increases while in the State House, certainly appeals to some Villere voters, but he polls popular with Dardenne voters as well.   What is also clear is that some of Downer's GOP primary voters would likely cross party lines and vote for Gautreaux, at least in Downer's political base in Terrebonne and Lafourche.

As the old dictim goes, "All things being equal, Cajuns vote for Cajuns," and a Downer surge could help Villere by helping Gautreaux over Fayard.   And, Gautreaux has launched a radio campaign in this last week, and has touted union support and the backing of the Firemen Associations.  (Still, Downer voters in St. Bernard and Ascension, if they crossed party lines, could likely be considered more part of Fayard's base.)

A week until the election, it remains unclear by any metric which candidate will be in the runoff with Jay Dardenne, but Villere has three other advantages that few have recognized.

On election day on Saturday, October 2nd, the LSU-Tennessee football game occurs in Tiger Stadium at 2:30 PM shutting down most of Baton Rouge.  The political base for both Dardenne and Fayard is in the Capitol City.

Fayard grew up in Livingston Parish, and despite her support in New Orleans, is considered more of a BR candidate. Dardenne represented Baton Rouge in the State Senate for years.  A depressed vote there, and Villere and Davis benefit in comparison.

Likewise the Jefferson Parish President's race, while strongly in Councilman John Young's advantage, is likely to draw voters to the polls.  That constitutes Villere's base, a parish that has seen his flower trucks on the roads for years, and whose voters grew up shopping at Canal Villere.  (Though, Roger Villere's family were not owners of the stores, he still benefits from the nostalgia vote.  Just ask a Schwegmann in his or her first bids for statewide office.)

Moreover, recent allegations in the Juvenile Court Judicial race could depress some turnout, leaving candidate Richard Exnicios and strength in Lakeview and Uptown to decide the contest.  That is Villere territory as well, at least with the GOP and Conservative Democratic Orleanians most likely to vote for a descendant of the family that founded the City of New Orleans with Bienville.

By Christopher Tidmore,  [email protected]

[Tidmore is on the radio from 7-8 AM Weekdays on 1560 AM New Orleans & 1590 AM Baton Rouge, online at].

This article was first published in the Louisiana Weekly.  That article has been edited for by this publication.  Bayoubuzz does not necessarily agree or disagree with this article and does not support any candidate for this election or any other election.