Monday, 11 October 2010 18:40

Louisiana Lt. Governor's Race: Dardenne Vs. Fayard Is Gender, Party, Region Showdown

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The first phone call that Caroline Fayard made, as soon as winning a runoff slot, was to Sammy Kershaw.  The 32 year old Democratic candidate congratulated the GOP Country Singer on a good primary race for Lt. Governor and actively began courting his endorsement for the next round.
It did not work, but it was not for lack of trying.
Fayard, a Livingston Parish native educated in nearby Baton Rouge before heading off to the Ivy Leagues, had decided to have her victory party on the night of October 2, 2010 at a quintessentially New Orleans locale--Irving Mayfield's Jazz Club on Bourbon Street.

Leagues of excited Democratic activists (a even a few Republicans) descended upon the Chateau Sonesta Hotel hotspot, just off Bourbon Street, to greet the rising star in the Louisiana political firmerment, and hear a little jazz while they were at it.
Fayard held the event at the music venue to emphasize her commitment Louisiana's cultural economy, a point hardly lost on a musician-turned-politician like Kershaw.      
She waited until most of the returns were in, and it was not until past 10 pm that Fayard emerged from her hotel room to greet supporters in a room just outside the Jazz Club proper.    “I wanted to make sure that we had made it,” the Loyola University Law Professor turned first time politician told her gathered backers.
Roger Villere and Kevin Davis had both conceded the hour before.  Davis had reached the position that polls for weeks had assigned him, 8% support with an overwhelming backing in St. Tammany Parish, winning most of the Northshore.
Villere, at a reception at a warehouse full of flowers, admitted, “We didn’t quite make it where we had hoped to be."   His seven percent result under polled his position, landing him in third place in his home parish of Jefferson.   The GOP Chairman had fallen behind in the fundraising race, unable to match the spending of his rivals.
His campaign was predicated on strong Tea Party grassroots support, and he had the leaders.   The Tea Party of Louisiana, which had been so critical in 3rd District Congressional candidate Jeff Landry’s almost GOP primary win in August and his 65% majority on October 2nd over Hunt Downer, had slammed Dardenne for supporting the Stelly tax increases--and backed Villere based on his proposal to phase out the state income tax.
They hoped that the undecided vote, which by early September remained at 47% of the electorate, would break Villere’s way, that the Tea Party would rush to back him in what had appeared as a four way race for second place in the runoff.
In the end, the Tea Party made a crucial difference, but for the most part the consevative activists broke for Sammy Kershaw.   The Country Singer had Tea Party credentials of his own, having sung at the national Tea Party Express’s convention, and making a final week swing through most of central Louisiana telling rural voters of his conservative politics.
It nearly earned him a runoff slot   Kershaw, having spent a fraction of any of his rivals, earned nearly 20% of the vote, as Fayard edged to 25% and Dardenne polled at 28%..   
Kershaw himself relied on a network of Tea Party activists to get out his message, having done comparatively little campaigning himself until the final weeks.   He had run for the Lt. Governorship previously, of course, and he drew upon his past campaign backers along with new conservative grassroots players.  Using his commercial fame in Country and Western Music, he edged his more proment GOP rivals, Davis and Villere, out of contention, spending less than either.
That frugality constrasts with Fayard and Dardenne who fought their way into the runoff on a spending binge in the final weeks.    
The Secretary of State, a virtual incumbent in the contest for Lt. Governor spent $279,000 to win 181,000 votes, for an average of $1.54 on every individual that voted for his campaign. The Loyola Law Professor, spent $321,000 to earn 159,000 ballots in her favor.    The campaign fund, mostly comprised of her own money, ended up costing her $2.01 per elector.
A large part of the 32 year old candidate’s budget went to advertisements featuring President Bill Clinton voicing his support for Fayard, and driving the Democratic vote, particularly in the African-American community, away from the AFL-CIO supported Morgan City State Senator Butch Gautreaux.   
The strategy ended up being so successful that Fayard won 50% of the vote in Orleans Parish, a place Gautreaux had placed most of his early hopes, winning the Orleans Democratic Party Executive Committee nod in August.  The State Senator won just four percent support in the city, roughly his result statewide.
Interestingly, Democrat Jim Crowley won 8% of the vote across Louisiana and 10% in the Crescent City, having mounted almost no campaign.   The “D” behind the Shreveport native’s name, and more importantly, his poll position as the first candidate listed out eight candidates running, drew a disproportionate number of undecided voters—particularly on the Left.    Some times it pays to have a last name that starts with one of the first letters of the alphabet.   By all accounts, a great many voters, several thousand, were so confused on whom to support that they simply voted for the first person on the list.
“The big winner” on Saturday, October 2nd, as good government advocate C.B. Forgotston pointed out “was apathy”.
“It won by a landslide of 78% to 22%,” he explained to The Louisiana Weekly.  “Seventy-eight percent (78%) of those who are 18 years and older in Louisiana, who registered to vote, didn't bother to vote on Saturday.  Slightly more than half of the 22% of the registered voters determined who will be in the run-off for the second most important position in Louisiana -- the Lt. Governor's office.”
[In fact, he goes on to explain, of the 655,000 plus voters who voted in the election for Lt. Governor, approximately 64,000 didn't bother to vote for the constitutional amendments.   That’s roughly just ten percent of the registered voters who decided to make changes to the state constitution.]  
The higher sum spent by Fayard is hardly surprising for a virtually unknown candidate that only began running when qualifying closed in mid-summer.    She used the funds to build name recognition.   However, the nearly similar amount spent by Dardenne had a different purpose, to shore up attacks on his political right.
The volume of money proved propotionately less effective.  As Secretary of State, Dardenne ran for Lt. Governor as a virtual incumbent, with statewide name recognition, and a supposed established identity in voters minds.   Attacks by the Tea Party soon changed that, questioning Dardenne’s support of the Stelly Income Tax increases and twenty-two times that, as a Senator, he opted for tax increases.   
Dardenne defended himself with the accurate statement that he had voted for, and even authored, far more tax cuts while serving in the legislature—including the popular movie production tax credit.  He launched a website,, to make his conservative case, and promoted it across the state.
Often it seemed that the Secretary’s campaign for promotion to the number two job in State Government involved more defense of his political reputation than advocacy of what he would do when elected.   
As a result, while the Tea Party might not have gone to Roger Villere, it did break against Jay Dardenne, mainly forming up behind Sammy Kershaw.   In the end, Kershaw carried 31 small and mid-sized parishes, the most of any of the candidates in the race, even as he finished with just under 20 percent of the vote.
Both Fayard and Dardenne, who dominated in the Urban areas, needed that rural appeal. Hence, both began a courtship of Sammy Kershaw.
Fayard got their first, leaving her supporters, after a half hour on election night, and calling the Country Singer.  She was the first candidate to reach out to him.           
According to campaign sources, the two had a “good conversation”, concentrating on their mutual interest in the cultural economy, and Fayard’s sympathy for Kershaw’s desire to create a Branson-like music locale in Louisiana.   For a couple of days, it seemed as if Fayard might have had a chance to woo the Country Singer to her side.
He reportedly was sympathetic to her centrist “John Breaux” politics.   In the end, though, party won out.   Dardenne, himself, pledged to back a Branson-like strategy, and at a joint event at Louisiana Safety Systems facility in Lafayette (one of the parishes Kershaw won), the Country Singer endorsed the candidacy of the Secretary of State for Lt. Governor.   
Kershaw promised "a few appearances" with Dardenne, mainly in rural areas, whereas ?Dardenne agreed to help crate a Branson, Mo.- style community of family entertainment venues and resorts in southwest Louisiana "if it is economically feasible."
Fayard was able to put forward an endorsement that day as well.   Sen. Butch Gautreaux came out behind his fellow Democrat's bid.  But, his four percent total hardly ranks equal to Kershaw's 20%, especially in such a Republican year where David Vitter's coatails could, ironically, come to the aid of his usual rival in GOP politics, Jay Dardenne.    
Ultimately, only 35% of the total vote went to Democrats, a clear challenge for Fayard.   Vic Lent, co-host of WSLA's and KKAY's morning political program (7-8 AM Weekdays on 1560 AM New Orleans and 1590 AM Baton Rouge), maintains that this ratio is less of a problem for the Democratic candidate than it, at first, appears.  "Women will vote for Fayard.  Democratic Women.  Republican women.  It does not matter," Lent explained.
"Sure Sammy Kershaw endorsed Dardenne, but that doesn't mean his voters will go that way.   Fayard is an outsider running against a perceived insider.  If she can play to that 'throw the bums out' feeling, she can win."
That attitude was reflected in a recent online (unscientific) poll by the website DeadPelican that showed 23% of GOP respondents supported Fayard.  
Still, with the wind at the backs of GOP candidates, acrros the state and nation, as one political observer put it to the Weekly, it is important to consider that Fayard may need to do something more tangible than most Democratic women candidates have mounted in the past.
As one senior GOP consultant noted privately to The Louisiana Weekly, "In examining Caroline's potential strategies, it is worth looking at the two Democratic women who have emerged victorious statewide in the last 15 years.   Equally, though, it is worth noting that their victories encountered dynamics very different than those that will be seen on November 2nd."
"There will be a temptation to look to Kathleen Blanco's 2003 race as the model for Caroline's strategy.   But, that race is deceiving because of that word, race.   Jindal was considered a moderate alternative at the time, running as the named protege of the relatively popular governor.  (In that model, it is not dissimilar from Caroline's support by President Clinton.)"
"However, key to Blanco's victory was the swings of North Louisiana parishes that normally vote Republican, but felt uncomfortable with backing Jindal--a fast talking kid with dark skin."  
"Bobby reached something similar to Dardenne's 22% in Orleans last night.  That made him an unusually strong GOP candidate for the city, and that poses a danger in pursuing a conventional Democratic base plus Acadiana strategy that Kathleen used.  Dardenne potentially draws too much Orleans vote for that model."
"And, in the end, Caroline is not Cajun.  There will not necessarily be an overwhelming swing amongst independents and non-aligned Republicans that Blanco saw from Lafourche to New Iberia and pushed her over the top against a 'moderate' GOP contender.
"The other race, that would seem a closer contrast is the 1996 Mary Landrieu/Woody Jenkins contest.  A Baton Rouge candidate versus a 'New Orleans' candidate.   Mary's 5788 vote victory was based on a strong African-American turnout in Orleans matched with an Independent unease with very conservative candidate."
"Jenkins himself argued that he needed a 70% return to emerge victorious because of high black turnout in Orleans for the DA's and Casino option elections in Orleans. That was unrealistic, and yet with just one more vote per precinct, Jenkins would have won regardless."
"1996, though, was a year that had Bill Clinton winning the Presidency.  Jenkins led Dole's vote by 110,000 votes.  The wind was against him.   It was a miracle that he did as well as he did, and indicative of how GOP leaning Louisiana had already become 15 years ago."
"This year, in Louisiana, at least, it goes without saying that the wind is at the GOP's back.  It is closer to 2004, and Caroline is in danger of being the Chris John in this contest. The fact that 35% was the total Democratic vote seems to back this up.  (Mary Landrieu's subsequent races involved a swing in her favor with Jefferson Parish voters that is unlike to occur for another Democrat without the power of incumbency to draw upon.)"
"Yes, there will be a high Black turnout in Orleans for the 2nd Congressional, and down-ticket support from Melancon's campaign, similar to Landrieu's 1996 race.   However, Cao doesn't inspire fear in the Black community and Richmond hardly engenders confidence.  Mild indifference amongst Black voters towards turnout is more likely.  Richmond might win, but not be the margins that she needs to ride his coattails."
"Caroline's hope is that the Cao supporters cross over in large part to her bid, vote for her, and that along with regular Democratic turnout for Melancon might be enough to beat Dardenne."
"If she can woo Kershaw voters, that plus the Democratic base, is a strategy that could work, but, question remains, though, how does one convince rural voters and the tea party support that voted for the singer that Caroline, an urbanite lawyer, professor, and frankly Wall Streeter [a former Financial Expert for Goldman Sacks], can relate to their situation."
"If she had six months to make this case, a conventional Democratic campaign might work.  There may not be enough time to achieve a quick rural restoration, though, unless a different tact to the Right is made."
"That's why it might be time to take a page out of [Democratic Congressman] Walt Minnick of Idaho's playbook and take advantage of Dardenne's primary weakness--taxes. And, particularly his weakness on the issue with conservative/tea party leaning voters."
"It might, strange as it sounds for a Democrat, be time to engage those voters--and organizations--directly.  But, it could work."
"Dardenne is under deep suspicion with tea party voters due to his Stelly and previous sales tax votes.   They are looking for a reason to vote against him.  He is Mike Castle, to them.
The danger is that Dardenne is able to pick up these voters by default by portraying Caroline as worse, more to the left, as he has already begun to do.   The danger is Dardenne painting the race as the lesser of two evils."
"A conventional Democratic campaign provides no innoculation against this.However, Minnick offers an example of how to fight this.  In his case, he used immigration as his issue, due to his opponent's weakness on the point."
"That is problematic for Caroline, but a campaign who subtext is lower taxes is not.  Take a page out of Bill Clinton's playbook and take it further.   Be the new face that brings not only new perspectives but low tax alternatives."
"Caroline can utilize that issue, by advocating in migration and investment through the following:   First, a phase out of income taxes on retirees, ie those over the age of 60."
"A campaign based on making Louisiana a retirement haven breaks the GOP's core constituency amongst older voters, and reminds voters (with a little nudging) that Jay voted for the largest Income tax increase in the state's history. It also helps you campaign to bring wealthy investors back into the state, and allows you to point to duplicating Florida and Texas without the full fiscal irresponsibility that Villere had suggested.  You become the economic guru and the fan of the right as well.  You pick up Villere and Davis voters with a tax cut acceptable to Democrats as well.."
"The budgetary fiscal impact is roughly 250 million and can be phased in for all over 20 years, but for new arrivals (those who have not lived in LA for five years) the tax break can be instituted immediately.  [That passes constitutional muster without causing a fiscal hole.  Phase down the remaining tax for everyone else from the age of 80 down a year at a time.  That could pass the legislature without causing a court challenge or major spending cuts.  The age of 60 is chosen due to those that are healthy, wealthy to invest and still strong enough to contribute to our state intellectually, buy property, are not a drain but an economic plus.  Statistically, retirees decide on retirement locations at 59 for 60.  By 65 it is too late.]"
"Predicated on this strategy must be a strong opposition to the Stelly Plan from Fayard, unlike Dardenne.  Even more difficult for a Democrat, to woo rural voters, she must embrace some national tax relief if asked, due to the national poltical evironment.   I would not hurt for Caroline to embrace the Bush tax cuts, doing what Travis Childers has done in Miss, and swing Republicans may give you a waver from the general Obama-Democrat anger."
"To wavering Democratic supporters, she can note that the amount of the tax cut could be 2/3 paid for by a one dollar increase in the cigarette tax, but this MUST not be an official position of the campaign.  You must appear to the general public a tax cutter to Jay's tax raiser.  But, it gives you an out to your closest supporters."
"Secondly, she must support extensions of the Film tax credits beyond Theatre into BIotech, expanding recording industry, etc.  That steals a Dardenne issue and puts Caroline in the solid economic development territory without seeming that you extend beyond her portfolio.  Also, regardless of his endorsement, adopt something resembling Kershaw's "Branson" strategy as a way to particularly reach his supporters."
"Thirdly, and most importantly, Caroline have has a message that reaches out to the tea parties themselves.  While not wanting to seek their support directly, she must neutralize them from rallying on Dardenne's behalf.  Fayard must approach related conservative organizations  to make them think twice from backing  Dardenne. In other words, without directly becoming a tea party member, she must be more acceptable on taxes to fiscal conservatives in the Tea Parties than Dardenne currently is."  
"This creates a difficulty unless properly handlened so as not to create Democratic blow-back, particularly amongst African-Americans, but in this GOP year, she needs to seperate yourself from the party somewhat."
"Caroline must seem as the next generation of leaders, libertarian, yet principled, idealistic, yet acknowledging that a degree of seperation from national Democrats is critical.  In other words, she must be a Walt Minnick, or perhaps a better strategy is a young Gene Taylor [the Mississippi Consevative Democratic Congressman who has consistently won a GOP seat].  Caroline, I admit, can't be a conservative firebrand like that, but if she plays 'just a reasonable voice' strategy, she'll end up as sucessful as the last person who attempted such tactics, [defeated Sixth District Democratic Congressional Contender] Marjorie McKeithen."  
"Jay cannot be demonized as a Right-Winger.  It won't work.  He's too moderate. So, Fayard must tack simultaneously to his right and left, Democrat to her base, but simultaneously tax cutter to the conservatives.       
"It's important for Caroline Fayard to remember, that this is a proxy race, whether she wanst it to be or not, for Governor.  This is an audition, and she must play with that in the back of her mind.  No Democrat will be come governor in Louisiana in the next 20 years, short of a scandle, without some kind of tax strategy that removes hostility of the white middle class.   That is what has been lost by Democrats nationally and in the Pelican State, and she must at least split to beat Jay Dardenne."
The election is Tuesday, November 2, 2010--just three weeks away.

By Christopher Tidmore,
1560 AM Slidell/NOLA & 1590 AM White Castle/BR, online at]

Part Two on 2nd District Race Coming on Wednesday

Dead Pelican

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