The Race for Lt. Governor: Will Democrats Pick the Winner?

Posted by root | 4 Oct, 2011

My commentaries are also available at www.BayouBuzz.com.

The gloves are off, the fists are swinging, and the mud is flying. The race for Lt. Governor is off and running. Incumbent Jay Dardenne has accused his lone challenger Billy Nungesser of being a liberal and having a double public persona when it comes to the BP oil crisis. Nungesser, Plaquemines Parish President, accuses Dardenne of being a liberal and various other assorted maladies that most politicians would take offense to.

Dardenne and Nungesser are both Republicans. Ronald Reagan’s declaration to never speak badly about a fellow Republican is obviously out the window. Jay Dardenne spent many years in the state legislature and cast thousands of votes. As parish president Billy Nungesser dealt with hurricanes and near hurricanes and the BP oil spill. Now their respective actions are being questioned by the other, and the voters are
left wondering who and what to believe.

It used to be said that the only job of the Lt. Governor was to wake up each morning and check the obituary page of the paper to see if the Governor had died the night before. If the Governor was not in the obituaries, the Lt. Governor could roll over and go back to sleep until the next morning. Fortunately, things have changed. Today the Lt. Governor has a very important job. He is responsible for Louisiana’s Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. His job is an important part of Louisiana’s economic engine. Our culture is rich from the Cajun Country to our Creole Food, from the French Quarter to the Atchafalaya Basin. From Shreveport to Monroe to Alexandria, the people of Louisiana are rich in their heritage and deserve the best. It is the job of the Lt. Governor to promote our state and promote tourism. It would be nice if these issues were driving this campaign. Unfortunately, they are not. But there are other things afoot that make this race interesting and important.

The 2011 election for Lt. Governor is seen as the first volley of the 2015 race for Governor. Yes, politicians do think ahead. Not always for the job they were elected to do but certainly for the next election. Although there will likely be countless candidates running in 2015, whoever is elected Lt. Governor will be considered a front runner to succeed Bobby Jindal who is barred by term limits from seeking another term.

Also adding importance to this race is the endorsement of Billy Nungesser by Senator David Vitter. This endorsement could make the difference in the race. Vitter is popular statewide, and his endorsement carries weight with Republicans and other conservative voters. The Vitter endorsement gives Nungesser instant statewide credibility especially in conservative circles. Billy Nungesser will work to make the most of Vitter’s endorsement.

And this brings us to the most interesting aspect of this race. The winner may just be the candidate who runs best among traditional democratic voters. Both candidates will compete hard for Republican and conservative votes; but, since both candidates are Republican, the traditional Democratic base is up for grabs. The twenty-four dollar question is will Democrats organize and support one of these two Republicans. If Democrats do so they may just be in a position to pick the winner. Imagine that: a Republican Lt. Governor who owes his election to the Democratic Party.

So who do they pick? Most certainly they would love to defeat Nungesser so they could lay claim to defeating Sen. David Vitter’s endorsed candidate. Democrats are still smarting from Vitter’s re-election last year. Democrats thought they had a real chance to win that race. But they never did. Only wishful thinking gave Democrats hope. Reality was something totally different.

Usually it is the race for Governor that gets voter’s blood boiling. This year it is the race for Lt. Governor. If you are a political junkie, watch this race closely. With just a few weeks left to Election Day, the race will likely develop into an interesting study of Louisiana’s new political dynamic where Republican will oppose Republican, and Democrats can decide the outcome.