The governor's race is tightening and soon could change dramatically. Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the clear early frontrunner, has fallen to second place in one independent poll, behind Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. At the same time, two prominent Democrats have emerged as potential candidates who really could shake things up for Vitter and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards.
Qualifying for the Oct. 24 primary is Sept. 8-10, which leaves little time for late entries. Still, the talk of political circles last week was word that local businessman John Georges and New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams are considering the race.
Georges ran for governor in 2007 and finished third in his first outing as a candidate. He ran for mayor in 2010 and again finished third. Since then, he bought The Advocate and made it a New Orleans daily. He is one of several Louisiana business people who regularly commission statewide surveys by veteran pollster Verne Kennedy. Georges often lets his name be included as a potential candidate.
"I'm monitoring the race, but I currently have no plans to run," Georges told me last week, adding he would not rule out a run "under the right circumstances." He will step down as Advocate publisher on Sept. 1.
If he runs, Georges would be a game changer. He has residual name recognition, a statewide network, and he could match Vitter's war chest with his own money. At a minimum, he would split the Democrat vote with Edwards; if he doesn't make the runoff himself, he could pave the way for a Republican to make the runoff against Vitter, who needs a Dem runoff opponent to secure a win.
The same is true of Williams' potential candidacy. Were he to run, Williams, who is African American, could pull a huge chunk of Democrat votes from Edwards.
Meanwhile, Vitter may have bigger problems than the possibility of facing Angelle or Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, both Republicans, in the runoff. According to Kennedy's latest survey, which was taken in late July, Vitter's statewide support has declined significantly in recent months.
Kennedy's surveys in May, June and July show Vitter falling from 28 to 21 percent. Meanwhile, Angelle has risen from percentages in the teens to 24 percent. Most important, Angelle leads Vitter for the first time in an independent poll. Edwards runs a close third with 20 percent; Dardenne trails at 13 percent; "undecideds" are at 21 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent. The numbers cited above include respondents who are committed to, and those who are "leaning" toward, a candidate.
The order of finish is the same without the leaners: Angelle, 16; Vitter, 15; Edwards, 14; Dardenne, 8; leaners and undecided, 47.
Kennedy attributes Vitter's drop to a decline in support among several key constituencies — including Republicans. Since June, Vitter has fallen 5 to 11 percentage points among whites, Republicans, evangelicals, women and seniors.
Kennedy notes that Vitter's fortunes could turn around in the coming weeks. He still has lots of money — but after months of lethargy and low voter interest, the race appears to be tightening up at the starting gate.