Vitter's Impact on the Louisiana Politics

It has been assumed by many, myself included, that the Louisiana Governor contest this year was a lost cause, that GOP Rep. Bobby Jindal would walk to election as the next chief executive of the Bayou State. But could this week's revelations about David Vitter's, um, extracurricular activities have some profound effects upon Louisiana politics, not only this year but also in the slightly longer term? Bob Novak seems to think so (no link yet available).

As Louisiana's only statewide-elected Republican, Vitter is currently the don of GOP politics there. This scandal not only devalues his political currency, but it also embarrasses other Republicans. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), a Vitter protégé, is far and away favored to win the governor's race later this year. But now he is saddled with Vitter. Jindal has already called for Jefferson to step down. Will he call for Vitter to do the same?

Democrats will have lots of fun with this. They may not be able to win the governor's race, but they could make it more competitive by using Vitter to embarrass Jindal. Vitter cannot step down right now even if he wants to, because he would be replaced by a Democrat. If he wants he leave, he has to wait until Jindal becomes governor. [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, I think Novak is probably right that even with this week's news about Vitter the Louisiana Governor race may still be out of reach for the Democrats, but that they can at least try to make a more respectable showing now.

Yet the more interesting question, to me, is the one I bolded above: Will Bobby Jindal call for Vitter to step down, as he has with Jefferson? Let me first take a stab at a broader question: What would happen if Vitter were forced into a resignation before incumbent Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco leaves office in early 2008? Louisiana election law (via Bob Geiger) indicates that that the Governor does not have the power to appoint a permanent replacement in the case of a vacancy. But it seems that the Governor can make a temporary appointment of perhaps up to a year (the length of the appointment is a bit shady to me) before a special election would be held. And although Democrats have had some troubles in Louisiana in recent cycles, troubles that could be compounded by population shifts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it would seem that were Vitter to resign while Blanco was still Governor the Democratic appointee (perhaps a former Democratic Congressman from the state, perhaps an up-and-coming state legislator or statewide elected official) would receive at least somewhat of a quasi-incumbency boost in a special election.

So getting back to that first question, whether or not Jindal will call for Vitter's resignation, as you can see above, there's reason to believe that for partisan reasons it is unlikely that Jindal would come out against his onetime mentor. At the same time, one can foresee the possibility of this becoming a political hot potato for Jindal should he not call for Vitter to step down. As a result, it certainly would not be a bad idea to begin to apply pressure on Jindal to be consistent in his calls for resignation, if not only to affect his gubernatorial candidacy but also possibly to help force Vitter's hand.

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Second Poll Points to Trouble for Kentucky Republicans

Over the weekend I pointed to SurveryUSA polling that showed that Kentucky Republicans are in a fairly disastrous position, with their gubernatorial nominee for the 2007 election, incumbent Ernie Fletcher, trailing by a remarkable 62 percent to 34 percent margin. Perhaps it was an outlier? Think again. A second poll of likely Kentucky voters, this one conducted by Rasmussen Reports, finds Fletcher's support to be just as anemic.

Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher (R) survived a serious Primary challenge to once again claim his party's nomination. But the Governor starts the general election campaign as a 16-percentage point underdog. Former Lt. Governor Steven Beshear (D) leads Fletcher 51% to 35% in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of the 2007 Kentucky Governor's race.

The remnants of a divisive Primary battle for Fletcher can be seen in the fact that he currently earns support from just 63% of Republicans. Twenty-five percent (25%) of GOP party voters plan to cross party lines and vote for the Democratic challenger. Beshear leads by eleven points among men and twenty points among women.

In my last post on this race I opined that Fletcher's unpopularity could rub off on his fellow Republicans, including, perhaps, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is up for reelection in 2008. This is a sentiment I still hold. Democrats already perform relatively well in state legislative contests in Kentucky, holding a 61 seat to 39 seat lead in the state House and trailing somewhat narrowly in the state Senate, 21 seats to 16 seats. Couldn't a 15- or 20-point win by the Democratic gubernatorial nominee this fall only help serve to boost Democrats in the state further, including in a potential senatorial election?

And the race for Senate in Kentucky in 2008 is not being run wholly independently of the race for Governor this year. Just this week, McConnell tied his fortunes to those of Fletcher, saying that he'd "never met a finer man than" Fletcher, that he was "proud" of the image the governor and his wife presented for Kentucky. Even if Kentuckians have a year to forget about McConnell's strong backing for Fletcher, it's not out of the realm of possibility that such a statement would be used in campaign ads during a competitive senatorial contest, should the Democrats manage to find the right challenger.

But stepping back to the race at hand, these two polls augur extremely poorly for Governor Fletcher. The fact that he is unable to top 35 percent of the vote in polling of likely voters from two very reputable survey research firms inspires little confidence in his ability to win this fall -- and in fact indicates that he is on a fairly straight path to embarrassing defeat.

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Kentucky Republicans: Worse Off than We Thought?

Earlier in the month I took a look at the political environment in Ohio, concluding from leading indicators like partisan self-identification in polling and results from the 2006 midterms that the state may be turning blue at a far faster rate than we had previously assumed. Interestingly, the same situation might be happening just to the South of Ohio in Kentucky.

Like Ohio, Kentucky has had a widely and wildly unpopular Republican Governor in recent years who, racked by scandal, has begun to bring his party down in his state. And just as Bob Taft's poor standing within the electorate in Ohio helped lead the GOP to disastrous results in 2006 -- losing the governorship, one seat in the Senate, one seat in the House and a number of state legislative seats -- so too might Ernie Fletcher's problems in Kentucky bring about a sea change in the state.

The current polling for Fletcher, who was able to escape defeat in the the Republican gubernatorial primary this past week, does not look good. According to the latest SurveyUSA poll commissioned by WCPO-TV in Cincinnati and WHAS-TV in Louisville shows the Democratic ticket of Steve Beshear and Dan Mongiardo crushing -- and I do mean crushing -- the Republican ticket of Fletcher and Robbie Rudolph by a 62 percent to 34 percent margin. Do remember that Taft, whose approval rating of 18 percent just before the election was fully 20 points lower than that of Fletcher today but his heir apparent Ken Blackwell was at least able to manage to receive 37 percent of the vote in November.

And do not think that a 30- or 20- or even 15-point loss by the incumbent Republican Governor of a state would not have an effect upon the reelection hopes of a Republican Senator running for reelection one year later. Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may have to undergo this exact situation this cycle. Polling already shows that he might not be able to beat one of his potential Democratic challengers, so the fact that more than a third of Republican voters in Kentucky appear willing to abandon their gubernatorial nominee in favor of the Democratic nominee shouldn't instill much confidence within McConnell -- particularly since there is already talk of a primary challenge being mounted against him.

Democrats not only have an opportunity to give McConnell a scare (at the least) in 2008, they also might have a chance to pick up one or two more seats in the House from a state in which they had already picked up a seat during the previous cycle. Though most of the Kentucky districts currently held by Republicans have decided Republican tilts, two Republican Congressmen -- Ron Lewis and Geoff Davis -- both received 55 percent of the vote in 2006 or less, putting them at least on the radar of the folks trying to extend the Democratic majority in the lower chamber of Congress.

Much will be seen when Kentuckians go to the polls this November to decide if they will keep Fletcher or throw him out. But it's very possible that Fletcher might not only lose in his bid for another term but could be such an albatross for his party that it's difficult for any Republican -- maybe even McConnell included -- to win in the near future.

[Just to note: I'm at a family reunion in Florida and am not able to access the internet as well or as frequently as I had hoped -- apparently my MacBook Pro and my wireless broadband card from ATT/Cingular don't like each other as much as they really should. Anyone else having this problem? (The MacBook/wireless broadband, not the family reunion, that is.)]

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