District 81 Race Will Be Competitive
When David Vitter resigned his District 81 state legislative seat in 1999 to run for the 1st Congressional District, a political donnybrook ensued. A crowded field of 13 candidates jumped into the race to succeed Vitter. In the end, Jennifer Sneed prevailed in a run-off victory against Ben Slater. Now, Sneed is seen as the strong favorite to replace term-limited Nick Giambelluca on the Jefferson Parish Council. When Sneed resigns her seat, look for plenty of candidates to jump into the race.
Several weeks ago, I reported that John LaBruzzo Jr., a territory manager for Applied Medical, would be in the race. LaBruzzo is currently putting together his campaign team and making the rounds at Jefferson Parish political functions. Also considering the race is Sneed's legislative assistant, Matt Friedman. Friedman might have the distinct advantage of running with Sneed's endorsement in the race to replace her. Slater, the 1999 runner-up, might very well jump into the race, along with some of the other losing candidates from that large field. The attorney would probably be the favorite at the outset, due to his name recognition from the last race and his ability to at least partially fund the campaign himself.
Regardless of who runs, look for a competitive fight to replace Sneed in this wealthy, conservative and Republican Old Metairie and Bucktown district. It is a district that doesn't always follow conventional wisdom; just look at 1989 when it bucked the president of the United States and the entire Republican Party establishment to elect former KKK leader David Duke as its state representative.
Connick Looking at Governor's Race
Thirteen candidates are already seriously looking at the governor's race. Now add one more: Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick. Connick was first elected in a hard-fought campaign against incumbent Jefferson Parish DA Jack Capella in 1996. Since that time, Connick has compiled a formidable network of political supporters and amassed a healthy campaign war chest. Noone challenged him for reelection last year, and he was able to secure another six-year term. Now, some metro New Orleans Democrats are encouraging him to consider the governor's race.
Although there are plenty of Democratic candidates in the race now, there is no New Orleans-area Democrat. Connick could have a distinct advantage over his other Democrat opponents because of his New Orleans base and his crime-fighting credentials. He is given good marks for his stewardship of the district attorney's office and is seen as tough on crime, a positive for any statewide candidate. As a relatively conservative Democrat, Connick could also be a formidable opponent for a Republican in a gubernatorial run-off. Usually, Republicans can defeat liberal Democrats in statewide elections, especially liberal African-American Democrats. Just look at Mike Foster's easy victories over Cleo Fields and Bill Jefferson. However, Republicans cannot defeat U.S. Sen. John Breaux and were not able to defeat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who was seen by many in the state to have a moderate voting record. So, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, especially one from a suburban New Orleans parish, would be difficult for a Republican to defeat in a run-off.
This is why Connick is being persuaded to run and why he might very well decide to enter this crowded field. After his initial election, it was rumored that Connick might switch to the Republican Party, especially due to his close ties to Jefferson Parish Republicans like David Vitter and Jim Donelon. Yet, he never made the party change. His party loyalty just might be handsomely rewarded in 2003.
Field in Governor's Race Also Taking Shape
As reported in this column several weeks ago, Secretary of State Fox McKeithen is giving serious consideration to running for governor. Quite often in open primary elections in Louisiana, the most conservative candidate in the race secures a run-off position. McKeithen's backers believe he can establish himself as the most conservative candidate in the governor's race.
Many observers view McKeithen as more conservative than the mainstream Republicans either in the race or looking at the race, including State Rep. Hunt Downer, former Gov. Dave Treen, State Sen. Ken Hollis, Bush administration health care executive Bobby Jindal and State Sen. John Hainkel. However, if McKeithen becomes a candidate, he will have to fend off conservative challenges from former legislative auditor Dan Kyle, who has a reputation as a corruption fighter, as well as from Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman, who is also close to entering the race. Blossman, like Paul Connick, was just reelected to his position and can take a "free shot" at the governor's post.