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Behind the Scenes 

It's going to be a busy political season, and there's lots to speculate about on every front.

It's an election year like none other, and plays are being made at lightning speed. From one general running against another general to big money being raised and spent on the road to the Mansion, here's the skinny on what's going on behind the scenes so far in the fall 2007 elections.

The Hunt is On -- Former House Speaker Hunt Downer says he is being courted by the GOP to run for practically every state office presently held by a Democrat. Most notably, he confirms he has been lobbied hard to mount a campaign against Attorney General Charles Foti, a Democrat facing post-Katrina trouble in his base of Orleans Parish. Foti's popularity nose-dived after he accused a doctor and two nurses in New Orleans of murder in connection with allegations that they euthanized patients during the early, desperate hours of Katrina.

Downer, a Houma native, would have two stars to show off when his own toughness is questioned, but the showmanship wouldn't stop there. Not only is he a major general in the Louisiana National Guard, but he also serves as Gov. Kathleen Blanco's legislative director and secretary of veteran's affairs -- proving he can play nice across party lines, even deep into a Democratic administration. Then again, that claim could also work against him.

Despite his cozy relationship with The Governess, Downer ran against Blanco four years ago. He has the experience of making a statewide bid and the stamina of most men half his age. "You never say never to anything," Downer says. "But sometimes when you reach a crossroads, you have to take it."

He was also urged to run in the open primary that eventually crowned Congressman Charlie Melancon, a Democrat from Napoleonville, but he sat that one out, still licking his wounds from the failed run for governor. Downer still has a $23,000 campaign debt from that race and retiring it quickly might be a way to get the general to run for general.

The Superhuman Money-Raising Machine -- Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal's campaign is reporting more than $5.1 million in donations raised since he embarked on a gubernatorial bid.

"If things keep moving at this pace, we'll meet the goal," Jindal's press secretary Melissa Sellers said a few days before the announcement. The campaign had sent out a mass email pushing for dough early last week, reminding supporters the financial reporting period is quickly coming to an end. "We've received literally hundreds of phone calls and emails today," Sellers said that first afternoon.

With the respectable war chest Blanco was hording out of the way, Jindal is now links ahead of all other challengers. Meanwhile, Breaux,the Democratic hopeful, pulled out of the race Friday after the attorney general failed to issue an opinion stating he was a citizen and thus eligible to run.

Cynthia Dupree, a Lafayette-based fundraising consultant wrapping up an exclusive stint with Blanco, was impressed by Jindal's numbers. "Anybody that has $5 million right now is at a huge advantage," she says. While it might seem like a watershed year for political money, Dupree says it's only because more donors are deciding to pick their horses sooner than later. "It's still a wide-open race," she says.

Charles D. Hadley, former political science chair at the University of New Orleans and now a research emeritus there, says Breaux, with all his Beltway ties, shouldn't find it too hard to catch up if he needs to, but the clock is ticking. "The Jindal strategy is to suck all the money up and make it harder on the challengers. But it won't be difficult for John Breaux to call up that sum," Hadley says. "He has piles of cash ready. The real question is whether or not he's a citizen at this point."Behind the Kingfish's Desk -- Anyone who mounts a campaign against Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, the Baton Rouge Republican who captured the seat last fall in a special election, will be up against a compelling story, at least from the cultural side of the office. A history buff and memorabilia collector, Dardenne restored the desk of Winnfield's favorite son, former Gov. Huey P. Long, and now uses it as his official desk. That reflects the passion Dardenne has for the cultural side of his job. "A lot of people asked me why I was running for secretary of state and not attorney general or something. But nobody thought about the fact that I would be the unofficial historian for the state," Dardenne says. "I'm loving it."

On one hand, Dardenne's office is responsible for Louisiana's election process. But the office also oversees the state's historical archives, which includes enough video, audio and text to make your eighth-grade Louisiana history teacher totally geek out.

In addition to putting the Kingfish's desk back to use, Dardenne consolidated certain operations and eliminated entrance fees at many state museums.

"People were paying taxes to support the museums anyway, and we want to encourage people to get out and visit the sites," he says. The future holds other changes as well, he says, such as a museum trail for tourists to follow, major improvements to the Old State Capitol, a large variety of public-interest symposiums and more exhibits on the Civil War. Plans are still in their conceptual stages, and Dardenne says he is trying to support as many new ideas as possible. For instance, there's growing chatter about a Louisiana take on the PBS hit "Antiques Roadshow," where people could bring in items to be displayed and possibly appraised.

Who's in Charge Here? -- Democratic loyalists, who are staying quiet for now, are beginning to wonder if the party leadership has handled this year's gubernatorial contest as efficiently as possible. At press time, there was no state attorney general's opinion on John Breaux's citizenship, but even if Breaux gets a pass from Foti, lawsuits are a given when the former U.S. senator formally qualifies this fall.

Does this mean the Democratic Party is betting the Mansion on Louisiana's courts? That may or may not be a smart bet, but it will certainly be a hot topic at the next Democratic State Central Committee meeting.

According to an interview Breaux gave to BayouBuzz.com, a "declaratory judgment" will be sought after an official opinion is issued, which would prompt an early court decision. "I would love to have a declaratory judgment on these issues as early as possible so Louisiana knows definitively what we can and cannot do," Breaux told the political Web site. So, the world may know sooner rather than later if Breaux is good to go -- and jobs are safe at the Democratic headquarters in Baton Rouge.

Hear Me Now -- Self-financed gubernatorial candidate Walter Boasso, a Republican state senator from Arabi, is urging the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters to sponsor a series of monthly debates through the fall elections.

"The old style of having only one or two general-subject debates near Election Day is part of the same old, same old political culture in Louisiana that simply must change," Boasso says. "The rules must be rewritten to serve the best interests of the people, not the candidates. The people must be put first, and they deserve more than 60 minutes of political rhetoric that keeps the tough and specific questions at bay."

Such a tactic traditionally has been used by candidates seeking a bump in the polls, but it's also the anti-Establishment style Boasso hopes to represent by the end of this election cycle. Expect more of the same.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

click to enlarge Congressman Bobby Jindal hopes to move from his office - in Washington, D.C., to the Louisiana Governor's Mansion - and has amassed about $5 million for his run for the - seat
  • Congressman Bobby Jindal hopes to move from his office in Washington, D.C., to the Louisiana Governor's Mansion and has amassed about $5 million for his run for the seat
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