When the dust settled from qualifying for elective office at the end of last week, getting elected as lieutenant governor got a little easier for state Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere and reelected as U.S. Senator got a little harder for incumbent GOP Sen. David Vitter.
State Democrats had hoped a significant candidate would qualify for their party; better, one who could largely self-finance his candidacy. Half a loaf is better than none; state Sen. D.A. “Butch” Gautreaux did take the plunge for the donkeys and will pick up a few votes beyond just having that label. However, at the end of 2009 the term-limited senator had less than $3,000 in the bank and starting a campaign from scratch in a little over two months is not a lot of time to catch up especially when contrary electoral tides are really going to batter the party’s fundraising efforts and stretch its existing resources. This last-second entry was just to save face for the party, and while Gautreaux will get a good 20 percent just because of his label and minor name recognition, chances are he will not make the runoff.
That’s not the scenario for which Villere hoped, the main pure conservative in the contest, because he needs somebody of some quality on the left to pull votes from moderate, fair-weather conservative Sec. of State Jay Dardenne. Even though had no Democrat of any prominence run at all Villere would have had no chance at all, with a weaker main Democrat as the major foil for those two Republicans Dardenne is advantaged, especially as he has in funds outraised all of the other candidates in the race combined. It’s still likely to go to a runoff, but Dardenne probably will lead it and then win it in the general election.
Vitter’s task got a bit tougher, for different reasons, when former state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor qualified running as a Republican while state Rep. Ernest Wooton filed as an independent for Vitter’s seat. Although court service produces a political career that obscures ideology, Traylor’s campaigns sounded conservative themes so he would appear to have issue preferences for the national level solidly in line with the majority of Louisiana. However, so does Vitter, so there’s little Traylor can do to distinguish himself from an incumbent who already has put his money where his mouth has been for constituents over almost six years (and six more in the U.S. House prior to that). He’s not going to defeat Vitter in the primary if that’s all he does.
This leaves Traylor’s only tactic as adopting the same strategy as has Vitter major Democrat opponent Rep. Charlie Melancon, to try to paint Vitter as somehow unethical built upon Vitter’s admission three years ago of committing an unspecified, but publicly speculated as sexually-related, “serious sin.” It hasn’t worked for Melancon yet and it’s unlikely to work for Traylor over the next six weeks, especially as he suddenly has to get his name out to voters statewide from almost zero name recognition.
Traylor also is unlikely to have many resources to combat the $5 million that Vitter has bankrolled for reelection (within the month the latest report will come out and should not show much change). He quit the Court midterm to go into private practice and he will not have had much time to raise funds even if he has planned this since the beginning of the year. Still, Traylor will provide some annoyance for Vitter to claim the nomination as he will have to use some reserves to make sure no upset occurs.
He also must contend with Wooton who apparently will not campaign that seriously. At present, Wooton would not change the dynamics of the Senate contest much more than the host of also-rans who also have declared independent or minor party candidacies (one nomination to be decided) who will be there in the general election because Vitter leads so convincingly over Melancon. Also, until a few years ago Wooton was a Democrat and his legislative district is in Melancon’s congressional district, so he may be as likely to draw votes from Melancon as from Vitter with a presumed anti-Washington message.
However, were for some improbable reason the contest should narrow quite a bit, Wooton might play spoiler for Vitter. Thus, Vitter can’t write him off completely and this will mean some extra resources dedicated to keeping Vitter out front even after securing the nomination than if Wooton had not launched his quixotic campaign.
After analysis of who’s in and how they get to the end in statewide elections this fall, Dardenne must be considered a moderate favorite, and Vitter a good favorite to win their respective offices.