Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter walk into a bar.
No, this isn’t a joke. But it is nonetheless the setup to something much grander.
After years of bumping heads as adversaries, Jindal and Vitter signed off on a rare joint appearance this week at Huey’s Bar in Baton Rouge. The kumbaya moment was overshadowed only by the fact that Republicans chose a bar named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat to make a “unity” announcement in support of Congressman Bill Cassidy in the U.S. Senate race.
Most reporters don’t need yet another reason to visit a bar. But faith leaders from the evangelical wing of the GOP obviously do, since they were missing from the “unity” lineup. Pay no mind to that, “unity” organizers say; the Christian right is coalescing behind Cassidy, given a surprise endorsement late last week from Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Vitter has long been in Cassidy’s camp, effectively serving as the chief political architect, but Jindal is new to the fray. Jindal has also announced his support for Garret Graves in the 6th Congressional District and Dr. Ralph Abraham in the 5th District.
In the past, Jindal’s nod has failed to equate to much more than a stare from Medusa, basically concreting candidates in their tracks. Yet this time around, the governor may have a crop of winners. The Republicans in Louisiana’s federal races are out-polling their opponents and the primary numbers are stacked in their favor. That’s all to say this may be Jindal’s final time to shine in the Bayou State before announcing for president next year and serving out his final session as governor.
Jindal is as unpopular as President Barack Obama in Louisiana and it’s doubtful he’ll be able to influence any race here that isn’t already more or less decided. In a September PPP poll, the disapproval ratings for the two men were the same: 56%. But which one is the bigger drag on campaigns in Louisiana? Who presents candidates with the greater risk?
Of course, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu hasn’t asked for or received an endorsement from Obama. But like two kids on a schoolyard double-dog daring each other, Cassidy did tell her he would agree to one additional debate, aside from the one scheduled for Dec. 1, each time she campaigns with the president here. How did the Landrieu camp respond? They challenged Cassidy to get on the campaign trail with Jindal.
It’s a complicated equation, trying to figure out who would be hurt the least. Jindal is unpopular in several corners of the state, due to budget cuts, education overhauls and his management of the state’s health care insurance plan. But he’s still a Republican, and the party’s rank-and-file voters seem to despise Obama more. Jindal wins the point, yet quite frankly the “unity” event in Baton Rouge is as much of a public relations boost for the governor as it is for Cassidy.
So Landrieu has the most to lose by teaming up with Obama, right? That’s the takeaway from those who would know. But given her 18% showing among white voters, according to the Associated Press exit poll, you have to wonder how much further she can drop. An Obama appearance would certainly energize the black vote, which will be needed in December.
If there was a resounding theme in the primary among the Republican frontrunners, it was their nearly universal campaigns against Obama, who wasn’t even on the ballot. Those watching the debates this cycle no doubt expected the president to suddenly appear like a political Beetlejuice, given the number of times his name was spoken aloud.
Next year, when legislators and statewide offices are on the ballot, you can expect the same strategy from Republicans and Democrats, only replace Obama with Jindal. This is already true in the governor’s race, where Vitter took thinly veiled shots in his announcement speech earlier this year and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, so far the only Democrat, is building an entire platform around what he describes as the governor’s shortcomings.
If Obama is unable to deliver a victory in Louisiana with a 56% disapproval rating, then, on paper at least, neither should Jindal. Maybe that’s why the governor hasn’t tried it lately. Until now … albeit he’s late to the game and not overly invested; he campaigned more this fall in presidential primary states than in Louisiana’s primary elections.
If there’s one big difference between Obama and Jindal, aside from who appeared at the “unity” event at Huey’s Bar, it’s that one is actually president and the other one wants to be. In Louisiana, however, voters are clearly unimpressed on both fronts. Now that’s unity.