This week marks the 100-day countdown to the statewide primary on Oct. 5. In past years, the governor's race would have been in full swing by now, but so far the biggest news of this year's contest has been candidates dropping out.
More withdrawals are likely, but things should start heating up after July 4, regardless of who's in and who's out.
By July 10, we'll also have the latest quarterly campaign finance reports, which will show who's ready for the gallop toward Labor Day and the final sprint to Election Day. Anybody who doesn't show at least $1.5 million on hand in the forthcoming reports will not look like much of a contender.
Because the race has been a ho-hum affair thus far, and because time is running short, most voters will get mere glimpses of the candidates from their TV ads. Those ads cost money, which for most candidates is in relatively short supply. That, in turn, means endorsements could play a larger than normal role, particularly if the state's largest newspapers unite behind one candidate as they did behind Buddy Roemer in 1987. Don't think the state's big publishers haven't thought that one through, either.
Meanwhile, the principal dynamic of the race remains unchanged: our open primary system usually favors candidates on the edges of the spectrum. Usually. This year, the Republicans have crowded the right with five conservative candidates (formerly seven), whereas the Democrats now have two tilting left and two firmly in the middle.
Despite the recent withdrawals of two GOP candidates (Sen. Ken Hollis and former Gov. Dave Treen), there's still a glaring possibility that two Democrats will make the runoff. That's why we could see more GOP withdrawals in the weeks to come. The latest polls continue to show two Democrats leading the field -- Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Attorney General Richard Ieyoub.
Blanco is one of the two moderate Democrats, along with former state Senate President Randy Ewing. While Blanco has consistently led in the polls, Ewing has shown the most improvement since the spring. He has surprised a lot of folks with his ability to raise funds, and he shows more signs of viability in Uptown New Orleans than Uptown's favorite son, state Sen. John Hainkel -- who is one of those expected to withdraw soon.
Ieyoub, who has won three statewide races for attorney general and lost one U.S. Senate race, is by far the leading fund-raiser. His base is among traditional Democrats -- blacks, trial lawyers, sheriffs and district attorneys -- but his credentials as a prosecutor (and his office's leading role in catching the Baton Rouge serial killer) give him appeal among moderates and some conservatives as well. Joining Ieyoub on the left is über-populist Buddy Leach, a former congressman who has already spent tons of family money on his campaign. Leach has not moved much in the polls, but he shows no signs of giving up. Leach's primary target has been black voters.
Among the Republicans, most of the movement recently has favored state Rep. Hunt Downer of Houma and former Health Secretary Bobby Jindal. Downer has the support of traditional Republicans, while Jindal is the darling of Gov. Mike Foster and part of the Christian Right. The latest poll showed Jindal in third place overall, just one point ahead of Treen, who endorsed Downer when he pulled out. Trailing them is former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle, and trailing Kyle are Hainkel and Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman of St. Tammany.
Because of how the nine candidates are spread out philosophically, we effectively will have three primaries on Oct. 5 -- one on the left, one in the middle and one on the right. Trouble is (at least for the GOP), only two will make the runoff.
Look for TV ads to begin after Independence Day, and look for attacks to begin after Labor Day. At this point, it's still anybody's race. Voters are waiting for somebody to arouse them from their slumber, and candidates are trying to figure out what it will take to stir people's hearts and minds.