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Dynamics make difficult Dardenne defeat for lt. gov.

In the race for Louisiana’s most useless statewide position, early indications are that name recognition and some bucks are what you need not only to win a special election, but to win without the trouble of a general election runoff.

The first public poll released about the contest, necessitated when New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu finally got himself elected to that and abandoned the sleepy job of handshaking, ribbon-cutting, watching the secretary of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism work, and waiting around for any vacancy in the Governor’s Mansion, reveals the choice of a plurality of the state’s voters is … unknown. Some 40 percent of respondents said they didn’t know who they would vote for. But as for the remainder, about 25 percent gave the nod to Republican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and a bit over half as many to musician and previous candidate Republican Sammy Kershaw. Everybody else was mired in the low single digits, the two biggest names of which were Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere and Democrat state Sen. D.A. “Butch” Gautreaux.

A few reasons explain why Dardenne and Kershaw are succeeding as opposed to the others. A special election magnifies the importance of existing candidate resources. Because these are elections to which fewer people pay attention, it multiplies the importance of campaign money, and its related consideration that can be obtained through the use of that money, name recognition, in the campaign. Those with a lot of money, like Dardenne, or name recognition, Kershaw because of his musical career, are advantaged early on. It also doesn’t hurt that Dardenne has some name recognition as a statewide elected official, and that Kershaw had reported the second-most money on hand to (and nearly a half of a million or so dollars behind) Dardenne and himself had run in the 2007 regular election.

The results must be most discouraging to Villere, who has spent already more than $100,000, more than all other candidates combined except Dardenne (at least by the end of June). Seen as a very conservative candidate, his biggest competitor in that regard is the more libertarian Kershaw who also, as somebody involved in the culture industry that nominally is overseen by the lieutenant governor, may be viewed as having special qualifications for the job. Democrats waved a white flag when Gautreaux got in the contest at the last minute and while he’ll get several times his current percentage simply because he will be the only Democrat in race with any name recognition, this result shows he won’t be competitive.

Nor may anybody else be, if we define “competitive” as making a general election runoff, except Dardenne. With plenty of money to burn, he’s halfway to winning outright in October, perhaps the most trenchant piece of information from the poll. The question now becomes whether an implicit recognition arises among the other candidates to go after Dardenne. They may find support for this in the public, for many in it view Dardenne as a political chameleon doing whatever it takes to serve his ambitions for progressively higher office, and every step up makes it more likely he can win at the next highest level.

But even a negative strategy does not hold much promise, because the lieutenant governor does almost nothing. There’s not much to criticize on in terms of what he would do in office because so little meaningful policy gets made by that officer. That great equalizer to the bludgeoning force of resources, campaigning on relevant issues, is minimized in this contest, and all the personal mudslinging in the world won’t matter much in such a low stimulus contest. At this point, barring shocking unanticipated developments, the only question is whether Dardenne wins in October or November.

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