Nothing is ever certain in politics. You never say never. But right now, before the race to succeed David Vitter in Louisiana's First Congressional District even begins, Republican whiz kid Bobby Jindal has a commanding lead over his two presumed opponents in an independent poll.
Make that a daunting lead.
The survey was taken by Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR) of Baton Rouge. SMOR has been surveying Louisiana voters for about two decades and has a long track record for accuracy and objectivity. That said, it's always important to note that polls do not predict the outcome of an election ‹ particularly this far in advance of an election. Instead, we should always think of surveys as photographs. If taken properly, they accurately reflect voter attitudes and opinions at a particular moment in time. Those attitudes and opinions could very well change as an election nears. That's what campaigns are all about, in fact.
The SMOR poll in Vitter's district was taken March 19-22 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
The survey asked voters their opinions about Jindal, state Rep. Steve Scalise of Jefferson, and state Sen. Tom Schedler of St. Tammany. All are Republicans.
Voters initially were asked their impressions of the three candidates, ranging from "very favorable" to "very unfavorable." Jindal scored 53.3 percent "very favorable" and 21.5 percent "somewhat favorable" ‹ for a combined favorable rating of 74.8 percent. His total unfavorable rating was 17.1 percent, with only 8.1 percent either not familiar enough to offer an opinion or refusing to do so.
Scalise and Schedler were largely unknown to voters. Scalise's total favorable rating was 24.9 percent, compared to an unfavorable rating of 10 percent. However, more than 65 percent of those surveyed knew little or nothing about him.
Ditto for Schedler. He scored 17.9 percent favorable and 11.5 percent unfavorable, but almost 71 percent didn't know him. That's both good news and bad news for Schedler and Scalise. The good news is they each have lots of room to grow. The bad news is, they are so far behind Jindal in terms of both name recognition and campaign money that they will have to mount Herculean campaigns just to get in the game. It's not impossible, just very difficult.
Jindal's favorability translates into votes, too. In a "horserace" question, voters picked him overwhelmingly. Here are the results:
Jindal, 65.8 percent
Scalise, 6.2 percent
Schedler, 4 percent
Undecided/Refused, 24.0 percent.
Jindal thus has roughly six and a half times as much support as his likely opponents at the outset of the race ‹ and more than 85 percent of the decided vote. That's better than most congressional incumbents. Clearly, he has lost none of his cachet after his disappointing loss to Kathleen Blanco in the final days of the 2003 governor's race. If anything, his star continues to rise.
The congressional primary will be on the same ballot as the presidential race on Nov. 2, as will the primary election to succeed U.S. Sen. John Breaux. In Vitter's district, President Bush is in fine shape, but that's no surprise. This is the most conservative district in the state, and Jindal carried it handily in the governor's race.
According to the SMOR survey, Bush leads Democrat John Kerry by a margin of 61.8 percent to 26.8 percent ‹ but that's only in Vitter's district. That district includes part of Orleans, Jefferson and St. Charles, plus all of St. Tammany, Washington and Tangipahoa. The rest of the state will be a battleground in the presidential and senatorial contests.
For now, however, Jindal still has his magic in the First Congressional District.