‘Alford:’ Silly season has arrived in governor’s race 

All credit goes to state Rep. Sam Jones, who probably stole it from someone else before I took it from him and made it a staple of LaPolitics’ annual election reporting.

Jones used to attach the label of “silly season” to those moments when sessions turned from ridiculous to regretful. Happens every session, and Jones was always solid about reporting that moment to the world, whether through the use puppets or his own tirades.

I’ve applied the same form of warped vigilance to my own election reporting, particularly statewide races. That said, we have no choice but to collectively unfurl the banner, or label, or whatever. 

Silly season has landed like a confused duck on a frozen pond in the dead of Louisiana

summer—no one knows what the heck just happened, why it’s happening or what happens next.

We should have known things were becoming permanently weird when two talented consultants from the left, the governor’s campaign manager Richard Carbo and GUMBO director Trey Ourso, shared a poll this week via their social media accounts that was commissioned and paid for by the conservative-leaning website TheHayride.com

The findings were surprisingly positive for the governor, prompting Hayride publisher Scott McKay to own the confusion in his report on the poll: “We’re probably not going to make too many friends with the two Republican campaigns with the results of this poll, but hopefully it serves as a bit of a wake-up call for them.”

No issue appears to be too small or cuddly or fuzzy for this race. John Vick, the campaign manager for Congressman Ralph Abraham, unleashed this nugget via his own social media: “… under @JohnBelforLA, Louisiana has become the third worst state for pets to live.” (This is the same governor, of course, who installed a chicken coop on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion and now delivers eggs to friends and acquaintances as he travels the state.)

Gary Landrieu, an also-ran candidate who’s expected to qualify, has been campaigning on Louisiana’s ranking as the 51st most solar-friendly state. Energy should be a big issue in a state like ours, but it lacks the kind of bite that a solid poverty plan would, or some sort of revenue blueprint.  

Animal rights and solar power aren’t going to move the masses, not that any of the pros this cycle think as much. Everyone on the campaign trail has seen more polls than a lifelong professional stripper by now. They know what kind of red meat voters in Louisiana want. That’s why we’re seeing candidates go up on television earlier than ever. 

Between Edwards and businessman Eddie Rispone, there have already been four different TV spots launched as of last week. The tally grows when you lump in the super PACs. Last cycle, in 2015, the governor didn’t even release his first commercial until September. Former Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle was on the tube in February 2015 for that contest, but he wasn’t joined by anyone else until former U.S. Sen. David Vitter jumped onto the airwaves in August of that year.

We’re witnessing something different this go around…

In a state where Republicans dominate the Legislature and statewide elected offices, Democrats are outspending their GOP counterparts in the race for governor this year—about 23% more.

And even though they technically don’t appear on ballots, super PACs were spending more than the actual candidates at the close of the last quarter. That gap may have lessened with recent media buys, but this could be the cycle where we see Louisiana candidates and the state’s mainline parties lose some sway over the process due to this flood of outside groups playing in our elections. (They can take unlimited donations and some are allowed to avoid reporting requirements. What’s not to love?)

Adding confusion to the madness is the resurgence of political figures who haven’t run for office in years. Whether it’s Republicans trying to link Edwards to former President Barack Obama or Democrats working to connect Rispone to former Gov. Bobby Jindal, the ghosts of our shared past are very much alive.

Then there’s President Donald Trump. The Republicans want to be him and the incumbent is always careful when criticizing him. The president is so popular in Louisiana that Rispone’s campaign has purchased newspaper ads and stickers for supporters where Trump’s name appears in a larger font than the candidate’s.

Trump’s control over the nation’s political discourse is probably why this race is going to stay weird and off-kilter. Whether you like it or not, weird is the new normal in modern politics, and some folks just can’t handle that temporary version of reality.

Not a hell of a lot makes sense in this race, which should serve as a warning for us to not trust the fundamentals (again). In New Orleans right now there are white liberal women upset about their Democratic governor’s support of a recent abortion bill. Meanwhile, there are GOP voters who seem to be sticking with the Democratic incumbent.

Also, Trump’s not the only celebrity name being batted around on the trail. The governor recently traveled to the piney north to meet with Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame—only to be told by the bearded one, who won’t be voting for the incumbent, “This ole boy seems alright.”

Edwards is alright, and so is Abraham and Rispone. But there’s not much else to say. Maybe that’s why why this has become an election in search of issues with voices in search of ears.

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, atLaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.