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Odd but tatically astute for Jindal to skip PSC endorsement

Now that Gov. Bobby Jindal has broken his maiden as far as endorsements for state offices go – and backed the wrong horse – a new sport around these parts is trying to figure out when he endorses and doesn’t. Unlike his foray into the recent District 16 Senate contest, his motives in the Public Service Commission general election runoff initially seem much clearer, even if seemingly as strange.

In that previous contest, without warning only a few days before the primary he suddenly proclaimed support for candidate Lee Domingue. It made little sense for him to endorse in a contest with all Republicans running with little to be gained by backing one from all sympathetic candidates compatible with his views and so much to lose if his pick did not win, possibly cooling the ardor of the winner about Jindal’s agenda. Domingue made the runoff but lost to Dan Claitor there.

While some suggested that Domingue and apparently his family donating nearly $20,000 to Jindal election efforts, and also nearly $100,000 to political organizations sympathetic to Jindal’s agenda, had something to do with the choice, that didn’t really compute since many other candidates for state offices have donated to Jindal over several years and none of them ever bagged an endorsement from him, as he had promised not to involve himself in endorsing candidates for the November, 2007 round of state elections. In retrospect, the most plausible reason emerged that the Domingue campaign persuaded Jindal, a long-time friend of the candidate, to make the last-minute gesture as they realized their candidate was in electoral trouble and thought the governor’s nod would bail out Domingue.

With the next big contest up, that for Public Service Commission District 4’s open seat, Jindal has remained silent even though one could argue in this one the political returns are greater and the risks lesser than with the Senate contest. Former Member of Congress Republican Clyde Holloway narrowly led term-limited state Sen. Democrat Joe McPherson out of the primary, with former state Rep. Gil Pinac far behind. Holloway is a tried-and-true conservative who, had not David Duke pulled the sheet over so many conservative eyes in 1991, might have gotten himself elected governor, while McPherson personifies populist politics at its worst, railing against fictitious enemies of the people while using the system to advantage interests to which he is connected.

The election will be close. While Pinac ran as a Republican this time after a career in the state House, and a failed state Senate bid in 2007, as a Democrat, there’s no guarantee his short stint in the GOP will disproportionately send votes Holloway’s way. Electoral patterns from the primary suggest that his votes probably will split fairly evenly (assuming there is no disproportionate roll-off in turnout for any primary candidate in the general election runoff).

Here, a Jindal endorsement could make a significant difference in fellow Republican Holloway’s favor. Adding more incentive is that a Jindal winner would regain for him some of the political capital lost on the blown Senate endorsement. Even better, the costs are next to none going against McPherson, who loathes Jindal but even if he wins the PSC as a whole has little influence over the governor’s policy-making agenda. So, unlike the Senate contest, here the potential gains exceed the potential losses which leads one to wonder why, if he were willing to gamble on a high-risk, low-return contest, that Jindal will not make a much safer bet on a higher-return, lower-risk race.

Two factors explain Jindal’s reticence. One is that he did recently get burned and even with the much better risk/return ratio, his depleted political capital with a tough session upcoming and the relative uncertainty of the contest’s outcome means he needs more security of the capital and the overall return on this, even if relatively good considering the risk, in an absolute sense is too low to be astute at this time. The other is that the PSC has little to do with his agenda and so that not only would a friendly face there be able to give him little assistance with it, but also that a hostile one there will be able to harm it little.

Especially when that enemy occupies presently a position where he can do some harm. Not very much as one of 39 state senators and somewhat marginalized under the current regime, but the fact is even the little harm McPherson can do to Jindal’s agenda now is more than the zero harm he can do to it on the PSC later. Even if small, the gains Jindal may get from having McPherson out of the Senate (and better, in his place likely a more sympathetic legislator, perhaps even a Republican) probably exceed any symbolic benefit from a Holloway election – which actually becomes a cost itself should Holloway not win with a Jindal endorsement, a cost not risked absent a Holloway endorsement.

So with the sum of the fate of his agenda and use of his political capital (a fact Holloway appears to realize), Jindal rationally does better with silence. It leads to the odd occurrence where despite Jindal endorsing one Republican against two others he fails to push a Republican against a Democrat, but tactically it is understandable.

1 comment:

James S said...

Jindal's failure to endorse Holloway may be tactically astute but I can think of several less flattering terms for this action or inaction. One of the reasons that bloggers are giving Jindal such a hard time is his apparent lack of thought or care for his fellow party members. He ignores members of his own party in bi-party races then foolishly backs a terribly flawed candidate in a 100% Republican field. It's all about bobby and he is making it harder by the day to remain a supporter.