Blogger and professional political irritant C.B. Forgotston put it well when he noted that apathy was the big winner in the Oct. 2 statewide primary. Voter turnout for the lieutenant governor's race was less than 23 percent, and participation trailed off from that inauspicious showing for the two constitutional amendments on the ballot.
It's ironic that many voters profess to be turned off by negative campaigning, yet when a race comes along in which everybody plays nice — as happened in the lieutenant governor's contest — voters respond with a collective yawn.
It will be interesting to see how much turnout increases, as it surely will, for the Nov. 2 slime fest between Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon. Who knows, the lieutenant governor's showdown between Republican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge and upstart Democratic newcomer Caroline Fayard, an attorney from Denham Springs, could also heat up.
Given Gov. Bobby Jindal's obvious ambitions for higher office, the race for No. 2 is, in many ways, a race for governor. Although Jindal denies he wants to move up, nobody in the political arena believes him — and nobody in the game expects him to serve two full terms as governor. Every political move he makes appears calculated to position him for higher office. At worst, many say, he'll run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
That means the next lieutenant governor could ascend to the governor's office some time after 2012, which should make people pay close attention to this special election. But, so far, most voters seem distracted — or just plain uninterested.
Speaking of disinterest, Forgotston noted that some 64,000 voters who cast ballots in the lieutenant governor's primary on Oct. 2 failed to vote on the down-ballot constitutional amendments. "Roughly 10 percent of the registered voters decided to make changes to the state constitution," Forgotston wrote.
He later concluded, "If you don't like the direction our state or our country is headed and you failed to exercise your responsibility to vote on [Oct. 2], stop complaining. If you want to know the real problem in our state and country, walk in front of the nearest mirror to see the answer."
The general election for lieutenant governor should shape up nicely for Dardenne, who picked up an endorsement from third-place finisher Sammy Kershaw last week. But nothing is certain in politics. Though a Republican, Dardenne is not exactly the darling of the GOP's hard-right base. He apparently has committed the cardinal sin of being a moderate, which in some quarters is as bad as being a Democrat. Never mind that he is rational, calm, thoughtful, nuanced on complex issues and not given to sudden attacks of weirdness, vitriol or shameless demagoguery. In fact, he seems most unlikely to make Louisiana a national laughingstock, which may explain why some on the GOP's right flank can't stand him.
Dardenne's general election opponent, Fayard, is unabashedly a Democrat, but she also exudes charisma, intelligence and "newness." It will be interesting to see how she navigates the political minefield presented by her party affiliation in a year in which Democrats are not expected to fare well. On the other hand, the fact that she is a political newcomer may be a plus among folks looking for a fresh face.
Woody Allen famously said that 90 percent of life is just showing up. In politics, showing up is at least 98 percent of the game. Depending on who shows up on Nov. 2, anything can happen.