With Gov. Bobby Jindal's popularity still well above 50 percent among Louisiana voters and the state Democratic Party still without a lead horse to run against him, the Oct. 22 gubernatorial primary is shaping up as a ho-hum affair. Several down-ballot contests, however, could provide some fireworks.
The likeliest statewide contests to create some sparks are those for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, and possibly attorney general. Republicans currently hold all statewide offices up for grabs this fall.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser has announced his candidacy against fellow Republican Jay Dardenne in the lieutenant governor's race, and there is talk other GOP challengers may emerge. Nungesser, a businessman, will have the financial resources needed to make this race competitive.
So far, the lieutenant governor's race is shaping up as an all-GOP affair but, considering Jindal's national ambitions, that race could become the marquee contest this year. If Jindal doesn't finish his anticipated second term, the race for lieutenant governor effectively becomes a race to succeed Jindal as governor. Democratic Party Chair Buddy Leach has declared his party's intention to compete for all statewide offices, and the race for lieutenant governor would be a good place to start fielding top-shelf candidates.
Qualifying for all offices is Sept. 6-8.
The Secretary of State's race has drawn at least one major Democratic challenger to Republican incumbent Tom Schedler — attorney Caroline Fayard. Fayard ran a respectable race for lieutenant governor last year but stumbled earlier this year when she uttered her now infamous "I hate Republicans" remarks in Washington Parish. In addition to being quotable, she will be well-financed.
Also challenging Schedler is state Rep. Walker Hines of New Orleans. Hines, who was elected to the House as a Democrat in 2007, switched parties last year. Other candidates for secretary of state appear likely, including House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, who is term limited.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who also switched parties after the GOP sweep in 2010, has no announced major opponents, but state Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, is said to be giving serious consideration to challenging Caldwell. If he runs, Chaisson will pose a significant threat to Caldwell.
In addition to the statewide down-ballot races, local contests will give voters plenty to chew on.
Jefferson Parish voters will get their first chance to consider the political fates of all parish officials since the scandals of the Aaron Broussard administration first rocked the Gretna courthouse 18 months ago. Broussard and several top aides have since resigned, triggering a mild reshuffling of the political deck in Jefferson. But voters have not yet had an opportunity to vet all parish officials — from parish president to assessor, from clerk of court to council members — all at once. That will happen in October.
In New Orleans, at least four judgeships will be on the ballot, and each is a citywide contest.
Two judgeships at Civil District Court and one at Criminal Court are on the ballot after recent resignations. Civil Court Judges Madeleine Landrieu and Rose Ledet won seats on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal last year, and they will take those offices on Jan. 1, 2012. Landrieu and Ledet formally submitted their resignation letters last week, triggering special elections in October.
Criminal Court Judge Terry Alarcon's recently announced retirement and the death of Traffic Court Judge Dennis Dannel in January likewise have triggered races for those seats in the fall.
All four judicial contests are expected to draw multiple candidates, making the down-ballot races the ones to watch in October.