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Only conservative can derail Dardenne for lt gov

Regardless of the real motivations of candidates in the special election for Louisiana’s lieutenant governor’s job, as early voting has begun in what direction is it heading that might produce the state’s next governor after current Gov. Bobby Jindal leaves office?

As noted, Sec. of State Jay Dardenne seems assured of a place in what almost certainly will go to a runoff given the number of candidates and resources they are deploying. With substantial name recognition compared to the others, an organization that has run three statewide contests in four years, and excellent fundraising results, he remains the favorite in that potential future scenario.

Whether he can win may depend upon who his runoff opponent would be. Realistically, a Democrat cannot win against him. Republican Dardenne, whose politics in his legislative career have been closer to the center than the right, can fend off a challenge from the left if he were to face unvarnished liberals such as Democrats political activist Caroline Fayard or state Sen. Butch Gautreaux, since he would hold most conservative votes and pick up moderates. Interestingly, these candidates also hold the key to Dardenne’s chances even if neither becomes his runoff opponent.

Dardenne only is vulnerable against a conservative, of which three major Republican candidates can claim to be, former candidate and entertainer Sammy Kershaw, state party Chairman Roger Villere, and St. Tammany Parish Pres. Kevin Davis. If any of these candidates in a runoff against Dardenne could take advantage of an electoral environment that will energize conservative involvement and depress liberal participation, without a Democrat on the ballot there might roll off enough liberal voters to make up for some of the conservative votes Dardenne will get for one of these others to win.

But one must make the runoff which remains an open question. Not only are they battling among themselves over much the same pool of voters, but the major Democrats are starting to pour money into the contest so that, if the trio of GOP conservative hopefuls sufficiently divides the vote among themselves, could allow for one of the liberals to sneak on through. However, fortunately for these Republicans, Fayard and Gautreaux are doing a pretty job of splitting up their own base, as national political figures and Orleans-area Democrats have been helping Fayard while state political figures and organized labor have swung behind Gautreaux.

At this point, polls show that among these five that Kershaw has the best chance of advancing. Yet with a plurality of intended voters still undecided, any of the five could. Still, if those in the anybody-but-Dardenne camp had to make their best bet on stopping him, it appears that Kershaw is the best positioned. He consistently has run second in the polls not far behind Dardenne, has name recognition not just from his previous run but also his music career, and probably has the most potential monetary resources on hand to compete against Dardenne. He seems serious and thoughtful on the very limited range of issues relevant to the office, and if Louisiana can put a singer into the Governor’s Mansion, why not one in the second spot?

To get there, he must campaign sufficiently well not to let Villere or Davis run too close to him and hope that neither Fayard nor Gautreaux can consolidate the liberal vote, and hope that Dardenne (who will wish to take as many conservative votes from Republican candidates as possible in order to face a Democrat in the runoff) can’t pick off enough of his voters as well. If a GOP candidate can do this, it will be a contest in November. Otherwise, absent a major blunder on his part, Dardenne will coast to a win then and establish himself as the frontrunner to be the next governor after Jindal.

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