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Let the Games Begin 

I like this new schedule of qualifying on Tuesday through Thursday -- it dovetails perfectly with my Friday morning deadline. One thing that hasn't changed with the new schedule, though, is the flood of last-minute surprise entries.

Here's a look at some of them from the top of the ballot down.

Governor -- New Orleans businessman John Georges decided "at the last minute" not to run after all, thus saving himself some potential embarrassment and his supporters up to $3 million. Other no-shows included fellow Republicans Dennis Stine of Lake Charles and former Congressman Clyde Holloway of Forest Hill. Holloway instead opted to run for lieutenant governor on an unofficial "ticket" with Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman of Mandeville, who is running for governor. One surprise entry was former state Sen. J.E. Jumonville Jr. of Ventress, who reportedly will run on a platform of putting the Ten Commandments in all public buildings. Don't laugh -- that could cut into Bobby Jindal's support among Christian fundamentalists.

Lieutenant Governor -- Kenner trial lawyer Stephen Rue, a Republican with a lot of his own money to spend, also qualified for state Senate against Kenner Sen. Art Lentini. Look for Rue to drop out of the lieutenant governor's race and challenge Lentini. Meanwhile, Holloway will try to give Blossman some credibility with the Bubba vote, although Holloway himself failed even to make the runoff for the Bubba congressional seat in north Louisiana last year.

Secretary of State -- Republican incumbent Fox McKeithen has drawn two opponents: political unknown Scott Lewis of Baton Rouge and former Edwin Edwards executive counsel Al Donovan, who previously had announced his intentions of running for attorney general.

Attorney General -- The surprise here is that only two candidates went to the post, and they're both from New Orleans. Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik-Terrell, whose current job becomes appointive in January, will face Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti Jr. Terrell is a Republican, Foti a Democrat.

Treasurer -- Incumbent John Kennedy is the only statewide official elected without opposition. He initially tested the waters for governor, then took the path of least resistance and, in the end, found no resistance at all.

Agriculture Commissioner -- The surprise here is that veteran incumbent Bob Odom's legal troubles have not translated into political problems. He faces only one opponent, Republican Don Johnson (not the actor) of Transylvania (as in Louisiana, not eastern Europe).

Insurance Commissioner -- This contest set a new record for goofy nicknames running statewide. There's "No Fault" Fletcher, a Baton Rouge Democrat; "T-T" Fontenot, a Baton Rouge Republican; and "Coach" Johnson, a Ponchatoula Democrat. The real contenders are former Legislative Auditor (and former gubernatorial candidate) "Dan" Kyle, a Republican, and interim incumbent "Robert" Wooley, a Democrat.

Turning to the legislative races, the biggest surprise was the lack of surprises in many races -- 53 lawmakers are already re-elected without opposition. That's 12 in the Senate and 41 in the House. Whoa! Guess voters aren't angry after all.

Locally, every African-American senator from New Orleans faces at least one challenger -- most face two or three. Now go figure this: in a city where 70 percent of the electorate is black, the two white guys (Sens. John Hainkel, a Republican, and Francis Heitmeier, a Democrat) are going back into office unopposed. Huh?

In Jefferson Parish, all three state senators face opposition. (Footnote: Hainkel's and Heitmeier's districts include parts of Jefferson, but most of their districts are outside Jefferson.)

Among local House members, seven were re-elected without opposition. They are Republicans Danny Martiny of Kenner, Peppi Bruneau of Lakeview, Steve Scalise of Jefferson, Joe Toomy of Gretna and Jim Tucker of Algiers; and Democrats Glenn Ansardi of Kenner and John Alario of Westwego.

We'll see a few red-hot House and Senate races locally. The hottest will be the open House seat in Old Metairie (the one being vacated by Republican Rep. Jennifer Sneed, who's running for Jefferson Parish Council); the Uptown House seat being vacated by Rep. Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat who's running for lieutenant governor; and those of incumbent Reps. Rosalind Peychaud (who faces a re-match against Jalila Jefferson, daughter of Congressman Bill), and Rev. Leonard Lucas (who faces a House-high seven opponents). All are Democrats.

On the Senate side, the hottest races will include Democrat Jon Johnson's in eastern New Orleans and all three contests in Jefferson.

Let the games begin.

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