Now that the legislative session is officially over and Gov. Bobby Jindal has exiled himself to Iowa with the hope of somehow quadrupling his poll numbers in order to narrowly beat out Donald Trump for the coveted final spot in the televised Republican presidential primary debates, Louisiana’s full attention can finally turn to the upcoming gubernatorial election.
Thus far, the governor’s race has remained relatively lackluster. Since the moment he announced, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter has been the presumptive frontrunner, and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards has remained solidly in second place. If the election were held today, there’d likely be a runoff between Vitter and Edwards, and if conventional wisdom holds true, Vitter would ultimately win, easily, due to the fact that Louisiana is now considered a reliably red state.
But conventional wisdom is not always prophetic, and with several months left before voters head to the polls, many things can change. Consider that in 2003, a 32-year-old with no campaign experience at all climbed his way from 5 percent in the polls all the way into a run-off for governor against a candidate who had previously won two different statewide elections. Kathleen Blanco won again, but, within four years, her young opponent, Bobby Jindal, took over the lease on the fourth floor of the state Capitol.
There are two other Republican candidates in this year’s governor’s race, Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne, and both of them are painfully aware that their only chances of measuring the drapes at the Governor’s Mansion are through somehow climbing into a run-off with Vitter, who has the name recognition, the campaign infrastructure, the history of electoral success and, most important, more money than he knows what to do with. But he is also a deeply flawed candidate, better known for his short temper and his dalliances with prostitutes than for any of the work he accomplished in the Senate. His political survival is a testament to his relentless tenacity and acumen, qualities he has been demonstrating, once again, on the campaign trail.
This week, though, reports about a leaked poll seemed to indicate that the race for the next governor of Louisiana may be more dynamic than anyone had currently assumed.
On Monday, Zach Parker, a 26-year-old reporter with the tiny West Monroe newspaper The Ouachita Citizen, broke a big story titled “Verne Kennedy poll shows governor’s race a wide-open affair.”
This wasn’t the first time Parker had his byline on a blockbuster story. In April of 2014, he ignited a national firestorm after breaking the news that then-Congressman Vance McAllister had been caught, on video, kissing one of his employees. At the time, Parker told The Washington Post, “We have a reputation for not holding back.”
According to Parker’s most recent report, David Vitter is still leading in the polls at 32 percent, and John Bel Edwards is still in command of second place at 21. But astonishingly, Scott Angelle, who has been struggling to break out of the single digits, is now in third place at 18 percent. As Walter Pierce here at The Independent pointed out, because the poll’s margin of error was 3.5 percent, one could argue that Edwards and Angelle are now effectively tied for second place.
That sure seems like a triumphal, sudden comeback for Angelle, and not surprisingly, his campaign trumpeted the good news on social media, in e-mail blasts and on their webpage. “Striking Distance: Angelle at 18%,” they announced. According to the same report in The Ouachita Citizen, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne continues to languish in the low-teens.
But there’s just one minor problem: Verne Kennedy, the pollster, claims that both Parker and the Angelle campaign got the story all wrong. First, the sample size wasn’t 700; it was 600, and the margin of error wasn’t 3.5 percent; it was 4.1. But more important, according to Kennedy, Scott Angelle is polling at 10 percent, not 18. “It looks like a runoff between Vitter and Edwards,” Kennedy told The Advocate, which is what most of us have assumed all along.
To be sure, Zach Parker, the reporter, stands by his report, and the Angelle campaign is pretty up-front about how they arrived at the 18 percent number: They simply added their firm supporters with those who indicated that they were “leaning” toward Angelle and voila, 18 percent!
But because the Angelle team appears to be the only campaign to have done so, it at least temporarily allowed their camp to claim their support has nearly doubled.
While stopping short of alleging it was purposeful, State Rep. John Bel Edwards did suggest that the Angelle campaign had essentially stretched the truth. According to Edwards, Scott Angelle’s team recently invested in a $1 million television buy and were likely hoping to demonstrate a return on their investments. These claims aren’t denied by Ryan Cross, Angelle’s campaign manager, who also mentioned their recent, profligate investments in television.
“The great strides made by our campaign over the last few months have been extraordinary,” Cross tells me. “As Scott continues criss-crossing the state attending churches, meeting with farmers, oil-field workers, local officials, teachers, healthcare workers and other Louisianians who wake up every morning and go to work to provide for their families, the support and momentum for his campaign will continue to grow as Election Day nears. His message focused on growing our economy and creating jobs is resonating across the state.”
George Kennedy, a campaign strategist for Jay Dardenne and long-time friend who once managed Jay’s campaign for president of the LSU Student Government Association, was direct. “I’ve never seen a pollster deny a poll in public this strongly,” he told me. “Ever. It must be embarrassing.”
There is one person who would prefer to remain silent. David Vitter’s campaign has, so far, refused requests for commentary.