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Opinion: Governor’s race to begin in earnest

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With more than $9 million currently at his disposal in his bid to succeed Bobby Jindal, Sen. David Vitter remains the man to beat in the governor’s race.

Polling on the race points to a Vitter win, too.

Don’t tell that to Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.

Dardenne spent some time at The Ouachita Citizen last week to discuss his campaign as well as to make the case about why he’s the most qualified candidate in the field, which also includes Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, a Republican, of Breaux Bridge and the lone Democrat in the race, state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite

Though a Republican like Vitter, Dardenne didn’t blaze a trail through conservative circles to get where he is today.  He’s a moderate from south Baton Rouge where hard-core conservatives are somewhat tolerated but not appreciated.  And certainly not electable.

It’s not lost on Dardenne that it would be impossible, nor genuine, for his campaign to trek to the right of Vitter.  Accordingly, Dardenne is pursuing the middle ground, appealing to moderate Republicans and reasonable Democrats, who should recognize Edwards faces an uphill challenge to say the least.  Simply put, the makeup of the electorate in Louisiana tells us you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than see Edwards elected governor this fall.

SAM HANNADardenne believes there are enough Democrats in Louisiana who can be convinced that they would waste their votes by casting ballots for Edwards.  The safe bet for Democrats, according to Dardenne, would be to support a Republican who would lend a favorable ear and who has a track record of working with people from both sides of the aisle.   

On the surface, Dardenne’s strategy seems plausible.  Whether it will work is debatable.  Highly debatable.

The good news for Dardenne is he hasn’t been forced to burn any cash up until this point in the campaign.  Most voters already know him or know of him.

Angelle, on other hand, has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to introduce himself to an electorate that, by and large, had never heard of him.  An expensive endeavor, but it was necessary for Angelle to establish the validity of his campaign.

It’s worked for Angelle, too.

But regardless of strategy, Dardenne must hurdle the same obstacle that’s blocking Angelle.  That is, both candidates must get past an opponent who has almost unlimited money to spend in about 90 days.

They — Angelle and Dardenne — are hoping voters have Vitter fatigue.  They also question Vitter’s electability in light of his presence as a statewide elected official for more than a decade.  In other words, Vitter’s been around for a while now, so why isn’t he leading the governor’s race by a double-digit margin?

Who knows?

What we do know is over the next 90 days the governor’s race will get under way in earnest.  The electorate will be subjected to an avalanche of campaign commercials, name calling and muckraking.  And by late October, we will have had a belly full of all of it, only to be exposed to another month of the same.

Enjoy.

Sam Hanna is a state political writer.