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Breaking the Logjam 

The logjam in the governor's race finally broke last week when three of the 12 major candidates announced their withdrawals from the contest. Several more may pull out before qualifying opens Aug. 19, but already the domino effect has begun.

Republicans Ken Hollis and Dave Treen and Democrat John Kennedy are now out of the governor's race. Hollis will run for re-election to his Metairie state Senate seat; Kennedy will seek re-election as state treasurer; and Treen, a former governor, will not run for office this year.

Kennedy reached his decision on his own after testing the waters for months. He's a popular treasurer, so his decision to run for his current job will likely send two would-be treasurers looking elsewhere. State Sen. Willie Mount of Lake Charles had eyed Kennedy's job, as had state Rep. Tony Perkins of Baton Rouge. Mount, a first-term Democrat, will probably run for her Senate seat again. Look for Perkins, a Republican with strong ties to the Religious Right, to run for state insurance commissioner -- with help from Gov. Mike Foster.

On the GOP side of the governor's race, an ad hoc committee of party financiers has worked for nearly six months to pare down the field of seven Republican candidates. Their efforts finally bore fruit when four of the candidates agreed to meet with the committee, make their pitches, and then stand down if the committee anointed one of them over the others.

The committee, led by Lockport shipbuilder Boysie Bollinger, reached a consensus to back Houma state Rep. Hunt Downer, who had been Bollinger's favorite. Treen and Hollis then dropped out in short order. Treen also endorsed Downer. Hollis says his endorsement will be the subject of a future press conference.

The fourth GOP candidate to participate in the winnowing process was state Senate President John Hainkel of New Orleans. Hainkel's official position is that he's evaluating his chances. Polls and fundraising already suggest strongly that he'll pull out.

In addition to Downer, the remaining Republicans are former health secretary Bobby Jindal, who has Foster's all-out support; former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle; and Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman of St. Tammany. Kyle and Jindal refused all along to participate in the committee meeting; Blossman reportedly was going to participate but then changed his mind.

In recent polls, Jindal had surged to the front of the GOP pack, but that was before last week's developments. The ad hoc committee's backing and Treen's endorsement will boost Downer's standing significantly. Treen was virtually tied with Jindal for the GOP lead in the latest statewide survey.

Kyle has not yet started advertising, yet he polled a respectable 5 percent in the latest survey. People who know Kyle say it's unlikely he'll pull out of the race -- at least, not in response to party or political pressure.

Blossman, despite saturating the airwaves with TV ads, hasn't moved off the bottom in any statewide polls. He has a ton of family money, but his failure to show any progress (particularly after news that he let a utility that he regulates pay for a spa treatment in Santa Fe) may force him to join Hainkel in re-evaluating his prospects.

The ad hoc committee's goal is to prevent two Democrats from making the runoff for governor. Treen's and Hollis' withdrawals went a long way toward that goal, but Kennedy's decision may have upset the GOP plan.

In fact, former Senate President Randy Ewing, a centrist Democrat from north Louisiana, probably benefited as much as Downer from last week's developments. Ewing, like Kennedy, taps deeply into the reform vote. Philosophically and politically, he's the natural heir to Kennedy's vote. A business owner (timber), he has substantial personal wealth to put into the race, and he has raised a million dollars or more from contributors. Now his only opponent in the middle is Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, another Democrat. Blanco has consistently led all surveys, by the way.

Meanwhile, among traditional Democrats, Attorney General Richard Ieyoub continues to lead former state Rep. Buddy Leach by a wide margin. Statewide, Ieyoub runs second in the polls.

All of which means that the GOP bigwigs still have some work to do. Look for news from Hainkel and Blossman in the weeks to come.


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