The Republican Dardenne led the field in the special election with almost a third of the statewide vote, while political newcomer Democrat Caroline Fayard managed second place with a little under a quarter, edging out entertainer and former candidate Republican Sammy Kershaw. The remainder were in single digits for an office that sparked more intrigue than usual because of widespread belief that current Gov. Bobby Jindal might find himself on the national GOP ticket in 2012, where a win would create a vacancy for the lieutenant governor to move up.
Of course, whoever wins this election must also win next year’s regular election but the Nov. 2 victor certainly would have a leg up in that effort. And that is almost certainly to be Dardenne, who showed the broadest base of support and whose only vulnerability was from the right. Had conservative forces coalesced around a single candidate, with Kershaw clearly being the strongest, he would have finished second to that candidate and the runoff would have been a tossup as Dardenne, whose politics are more to the center than the right, would have attracted voters from the left.
But with perhaps the most liberal candidate opposing him in the runoff, the field his clear for Dardenne to pick up most of the conservative vote now left without a real conservative in the contest. Some who dislike Dardenne and/or who like Jindal may be tempted to vote for Fayard, in order to keep Dardenne out of a position where he could ascend to the governorship and/or to discourage Jindal from being selected as a vice presidential candidate and leaving the state in the hands of (if she were to win in 2011) a liberal Democrat. But this thinking is unrealistic and self-defeating for true conservatives: better to suffer a moderate than liberal as governor and if national Republicans think Jindal is a key to recapturing the White House in 2012, Jindal will cooperate even if it means leaving a liberal in charge after his departure. So, Dardenne is the overwhelming favorite next month.
Still, even in defeat the Orleanian Fayard’s candidacy will serve a useful purpose for Democrats, which was why national Democrats and Orleans Parish Democrats were eager to bring about her candidacy. With lackluster school board races (because the Orleans Parish School District hardly controls any schools any more) and a Public Service Commission contest that would be settled after yesterday, an area liberal candidate willing to spread lost of campaign resources around the black community could help push their challenger to Republican Cao state Rep. Cedric Richmond into office.
Cao has done a good job with constituent relations and national tides are such that what looked to be hopeless a year ago has turned into a winnable contest for him. The key to his win last time was depressed black Democrat turnout (due to lack of enthusiasm over their indicted incumbent) and given the coming catastrophic losses legislative Democrats have earned themselves nationally, that reality might cause the same phenomenon from which Cao could benefit in a month. But with Fayard’s candidacy continuing its life to stimulate black turnout (almost a third of her vote came from Orleans Parish, while only around 10,000 of her votes statewide, less than 15 percent, did not come from the three large plurality black parishes in the state, Orleans, East Baton Rouge, and Caddo), this may have ended Cao’s chance for reelection.