20101020-news-0101Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It’s getting ugly, fast, and shaping up to be one of those classic Louisiana political contests where there’s a conservative in one corner and a liberal in the other, with voters keeping score.
By Jeremy Alford

Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, a Baton Rouge Republican, tips the scales when it comes to experience in the race to become Louisiana’s next lieutenant governor. He was student body president of LSU, a campaign that was managed by longtime friend George Kennedy, and then served a stint as state senator before taking the secretary of state’s job.

But that doesn’t mean he’s taking opponent Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans Democrat, lightly. In fact, campaign finance reports filed with the state Ethics Board Oct. 13 show Fayard — buoyed by family wealth and an early fundraiser with former President Bill Clinton — outspent Dardenne on election day more than 6 to 1: $29,600 to $4,800. She also surpassed his media buy, and the trend is expected to continue until the Nov. 2 general election.

With such a framework, politicos expected Dardenne to go negative first — and he did last week with a statewide radio ad. It pegs Fayard as a “liberal Democrat” in favor of gay marriage and against the death penalty. It also suggests that “Bill Clinton advises her” and that her campaign’s loot comes from her “rich trial lawyer father and his rich trial lawyer friends.” (Her father is Denham Springs attorney Calvin C. Fayard Jr.)

It’s a brutal ad, produced by the same Kennedy that helped him conquer LSU, but Dardenne, a sometimes quiet and thoughtful politician who never achieved success through confrontation, is said to be an engaged writing partner — still waters run deep, as they say.

The ad goes on to call Fayard an “Obama Democrat” who donated money to a variety of officials ranging from former state Sen. Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge to ex-Congressman Bill Jefferson of New Orleans, who was convicted of federal bribery charges after $90,000 was found in his freezer.

There’s likewise a comical indication that it’s only the first of many volleys. “There’s more,” the voice in Dardenne’s ad says, “but we’re out of time.”
Monica Pierre, Fayard’s press secretary, offered a brief statement in response to the new radio ad. “It is what you would expect from a 23-year career politician to attack in this way,” Pierre says. “We are continuing our efforts to speak to voters around the state and focus on the issues that are most important to Louisiana.”

Dardenne, for his part, has been the quicker-picker-upper when it comes to endorsements. Last week, the Alliance for Good Government announced it would back Dardenne in the general election, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a one-time presidential contender still looking to gain influence nationally, found himself in Dardenne’s corner, too.

The biggest boost for Dardenne, however, may have come directly on the heels of the Oct. 2 open primary. That’s when Lafayette Republican Sammy Kershaw entered Dardenne’s camp. While sources say Fayard made overtures to gain Kershaw’s support, it’s not surprising that Kershaw kept it in the party. He certainly had some leverage with his 126,000 votes in an eight-person field, to Dardenne’s 181,000 and Fayard’s 160,000.

But Dardenne didn’t walk away with only the support of a country music star — he also gained a press flack. Amy Jones, a former Lafayette resident who was previously handling media outreach for Kershaw, is now attached to Dardenne’s team. No word yet on what Kershaw may have gotten out of the trade.

Kennedy, the brother of state Treasurer John Kennedy, still seems to have his political tenure within the Dardenne brand.  
Fayard, not to be outdone, has a media ringer in Pierre, probably best known for co-hosting WWL “First News with Bob DelGiorno” — it still remains one of the most listened-to radio shows in southeast Louisiana. Her journalism career stretched over 23 years in the Crescent City, and she has an Emmy to her credit. But neither Jones nor Pierre alone will be enough to get their bosses into office.

The race has some interesting dynamics. Fayard considers New Orleans her home base, and Dardenne is among the few Republicans who run strong in the region. But Fayard is actually from Livingston Parish and has just as many roots in the Baton Rouge region, Dardenne’s true home turf.

Then there’s age. Dardenne is 56 and Fayard is 32. On camera, in a debate, this main difference will shine through, with Fayard’s bubbly personality and attractive charm. Dardenne’s no slouch, though. He honed his skills over the years appearing on the annual Labor Day telethon in the Baton Rouge region, a spotlight gig he has long since given up, and he gives a presentation on Louisiana history that is unrivaled. He’s a performance artist and one of the more skilled politicians of his generation.
But Fayard argues it’s time for a new generation to take over. Good thing for her she’s still young. Plus, statewide elections are just around the corner and — should she lose — the Louisiana Democratic Party is going to need someone strong to run for statewide office, and against Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is 39 and ran on his own promises of generational change.

Of course, whoever does win the contest would jump into the top spot should Jindal run for the U.S. Senate, end up on a presidential ticket or just get plain tired of politics — which isn’t likely to happen. But the less Jindal says about his ultimate ambitions, the more just about everyone believes he lusts for national office.

And that makes the Nov. 2 general election for lieutenant governor a lot more than a race about culture, recreation and tourism.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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