Final Days in Louisiana

Members Stumping For Their Party’s Gubernatorial Nominee

Posted November 12, 2003 at 6:50pm

Former Health and Human Services Department official Bobby Jindal (R) is getting a major assist from members of the Louisiana Congressional delegation with just three days left in his campaign for governor against Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D).

Republican Reps. Billy Tauzin, Jim McCrery and Richard Baker held a Nov. 5 Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Jindal that brought in $170,000 for his campaign, and Rep. David Vitter (R) was scheduled to appear as a Jindal advocate following the campaign’s final debate Wednesday night in New Orleans.

McCrery, who once employed Jindal as a Congressional intern, has chipped in $10,000 to $15,000 from his own campaign coffers in recent days to fund several billboards touting the 32-year-old GOP nominee in his Shreveport-based district and has also bought radio time through Saturday for an ad he wrote and produced himself.

“I am ready to go out on a limb today and say I think Bobby is going to win,” said McCrery, who noted that internal polling showed Jindal up 10 points.

Democrats have been less active on Blanco’s behalf, although Rep. Chris John (D) campaigned with her Tuesday in southern Louisiana and is set to do so again on the eve of Saturday’s election.

Blanco’s two biggest potential weapons —Democratic Sens. John Breaux and Mary Landrieu — have largely been sidelined in Washington as the Senate remains at a standstill over Medicare, energy, unfinished appropriations bills and judicial nominations.

“I have been going down on weekends,” Landrieu said about her involvement.

The Louisiana governor’s race — the final statewide contest in the nation this calendar year — remains close, although recent independent tracking polls show Jindal with a slight edge over Blanco. Republicans won the governorships in Mississippi and Kentucky earlier this month.

Jindal led the Oct. 4 all-party primary with 33 percent of the vote to 18 percent for Blanco. Democrats were encouraged, however, because their five serious candidates received a combined 785,000 votes; Jindal and state Rep. Hunt Downer (R) took a total of 528,000.

While the Louisiana Congressional delegation is not likely to sway the result to either candidate, there are a number of interesting and interrelated subplots to this election involving Members.

Foremost among them is the political future of Breaux, who is currently pondering whether to seek a fourth Senate term.

Breaux has dismissed speculation that he would resign his seat if Blanco won so that she could appoint John to the remainder of the term, but many observers still believe that Breaux’s decision may be influenced by Saturday’s result.

Breaux, who is widely regarded as the most popular Democratic politician in the state, has been tied down in Washington as one of the conferees on the Medicare prescription drug bill.

“I’d like to do it, but it’s a matter of finding time,” Breaux told the New Orleans Times-Picayune about his involvement with Blanco’s campaign. “I’m sort of stuck here right now.”

Breaux has cut a television ad touting his support for Blanco that the campaign has run in recent weeks; Blanco also has proposed a health summit if elected that Breaux would chair.

Landrieu said that last weekend she hosted a woman’s luncheon with about 1,500 attendees for Blanco and has also done several fundraisers and speeches in black churches in recent weeks.

Landrieu also got into a high-profile spat with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) after he decided to endorse Jindal.

The junior Senator, whose father is a former mayor of New Orleans and whose brother is the lieutenant governor-elect; said she was “surprised and disappointed” in the mayor’s decision; Nagin struck back, noting that during Landrieu’s 2002 re-election campaign she touted her ties to President Bush. Nagin also pointed out that after finishing third in the 1995 gubernatorial primary Landrieu failed to endorse black former Rep. Cleo Fields (D) in his race against Gov. Mike Foster (R).

John, who has publicly expressed his interest in a Senate race if Breaux decides against running, has ramped up his fundraising considerably in 2003 and expanded his travel around the state.

John’s active support of Blanco could pay dividends if she is elected and Breaux retires.

Blanco’s backing of a John Senate candidacy — even tacitly — might help him keep other potential Democratic candidates like former state Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, who placed third in the gubernatorial primary, from entering the race.

Among Republican Members, McCrery has led the charge for Jindal.

In addition to his billboard and radio ad campaign, McCrery has lent his press secretary — Mac Abrams — to Jindal to perform similar duties, and was a prime mover behind the Nov. 5 D.C. fundraiser.

Always the raconteur, Tauzin said at the event that in Jindal Republicans may have found the perfect candidate.

“We’ve tried honest. We’ve tried smart. This time we’ll try both,” said Tauzin.

In the primary, Tauzin backed Downer, a longtime personal friend, but has since endorsed Jindal.

Tauzin cut a radio ad that will run in his southeastern Louisiana district for the remainder of the campaign that touts Jindal’s “conservative credentials as well as his successes in improving Louisiana’s health care system,” according to Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson.

Vitter, who is considered the odds-on GOP nominee for an open Senate seat, has sent out direct-mail piece in his district on Jindal’s behalf and has also attended a number of rallies in his district for him, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Ed Henry contributed to this report.