Louisiana voters now have less than four weeks to winnow the field of governor candidates down to two. Put another way, the major candidates have little time to slice and dice one another to smithereens.
Except, of course, for lone major Democrat John Bel Edwards. The state representative from Amite has gone from "John Who?" a year ago to the frontrunner — without getting any scars and without getting his hands dirty. That's partly because he's the only major Dem in the contest and partly because the guy with the most money, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, wants Edwards as his runoff opponent. Rest assured Vitter will have plenty to say about Edwards if the two men face off in November.
Meanwhile, Vitter's main GOP rivals — Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, along with various anti-Vitter super PACs — are hoping to chop into Vitter's vote and make it a real race, at least on the Republican side.
That's an interesting facet of the Oct. 24 primary. Although technically a nonpartisan contest, with all candidates vying for the top two spots in a political free-for-all, the Oct. 24 ballot is actually a mini-GOP primary. That's because Edwards, as the lone Democrat, is virtually assured of a runoff spot; in fact, he could easily finish first, with somewhere north of 30 percent of the vote on Oct. 24.
The three main Republican candidates are fighting it out for the other runoff spot. Until recently, it was assumed that Vitter had the edge. Then Angelle went on TV and radio while Vitter's "soft" support among evangelicals, Republicans and senior citizens began to fade. Vitter went from 35-38 percent in springtime polls to 22-26 percent in September surveys — while Angelle rose from around 9-12 percent to the high teens and low 20s, putting him within striking distance of Vitter. Dardenne stayed quiet until qualifying, but now he's hoping to match his GOP rivals on paid media.
The result is a Republican primary-within-the-primary. Vitter still has more money than all his opponents combined, and he will use it to try to drown out whatever attacks his opponents fire his way. He's also lobbing grenades at Dardenne and Angelle.
All that GOP infighting raises some interesting questions. For starters, will the man who makes it to the four-week runoff be able to mend fences quickly with the two losing Republicans and gain their endorsements? If not, will the also-rans sit out the runoff or possibly endorse Edwards, who has not said an unkind word about any of them (except Vitter once in a while)? Moreover, will the GOP brand be so bloodied that Edwards, who has remained unscathed thus far, looks like the only clean guy left standing?
Of course, it's just as likely that the Republican faithful will close ranks behind the GOP contender no matter who he is.
For now, it's interesting to see polls that show Edwards leading Vitter for the first time in a head-to-head matchup. That's not necessarily a prediction of how things will turn out, but I suspect it does reflect how things are going in the Louisiana GOP version of Survivor.