Before Labor Day, Jindal said he would be issuing no endorsement in this contest, where Vitter’s main challenger is Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon. After the holiday, his spokeswoman then said he might give one out, presumably for Vitter, before the election. Furthering muddying the waters was Jindal had said he would not get involved in this way in federal elections – despite having done so in a losing effort for the Sixth Congressional District special election in 2008, for a winning effort in that district months later, and also in a losing bid for the Senate simultaneously – later amended to say he had meant this just for this election cycle, before the hemming and hawing on that.
Seems confusing, but it really isn’t. Endorsements by a sitting elected official for others seeking office actually contains reciprocal benefits. The endorser hopes his imprimatur helps a candidate he favors, for reason of party loyalty or ideological compatibility to assist his agenda, or maybe just genuine liking, to get elected. But he also expects the endorsement to reflect favorably on him, which combines the perceptions that the endorsement proves useful to get somebody in office and that winner is someone with which he identifies. Both directions, giving and getting, link the candidate to the endorser.
Were it not for Vitter’s having admitted to a “serious sin,” believed connected to a prostitution ring although that has not been proven nor subject to any legal proceedings, likely Jindal would have endorsed Vitter long ago. However, Jindal may think that such an act may cause him political harm with some voters who are more interested in rumors about candidate behavior than issue preferences and thereby dislike Vitter even as they agree with his agenda. By an endorsement, Jindal may think this feeling may rub off on him with some voters.
This consideration might pale for Jindal were Vitter in a close race. But he’s not as polls consistently show he will defeat Melancon handily and all others spectacularly. Endorsements generally help only in close races and/or ones where the preferred candidate is an underdog – precisely the circumstances behind Jindal’s other federal contest endorsements. Thus, a Jindal endorsement really does nothing to change Vitter’s chances of victory, so far ahead is he, and the cost to Jindal of such certainly does exist. Why then endorse when no benefit for you or your preferred candidate seems obvious, especially when a cost to you appears present?
If something really crazy happened and Vitter’s lead suddenly shrank, then Jindal retains the option to endorse, where at that point any cost he incurs will be lower than the overall cost, not just to his agenda but also to those agendas of his party and ideological cohort, of Vitter not winning reelection. At that juncture, an endorsement might matter and Jindal even could come out looking enhanced in image, were Vitter to then win a close race, as he may appear with it to have tipped the scales in Vitter’s favor.
So it’s not all that hard to fathom Jindal’s silence, particularly as he continues to attract a modicum of attention as a figure for high national office. When looking towards the next election, in matters where principles don’t appear at stake (and for many if they are at stake, even greatly) you do things that you think will win more votes than lose them. On this issue Jindal acts rationally, even if this perturbs some supporters of Vitter, Republicans, and conservatives.