Since he first entered state politics four years ago, Walter Boasso has prided himself on being unconventional. In switching his party affiliation last week from Republican back to Democrat (he began as a Democrat and bolted to the GOP in the 1990s), Boasso proved yet again that he doesn't mind cutting against the grain.
But can the self-made millionaire from Arabi, who authored the levee board consolidation bills and who has put some $2 million of his own money into his campaign for governor, gain enough traction to get voters to take him seriously as a viable candidate? Put another way, will his party switch make him more of a threat to his GOP rival, Congressman Bobby Jindal?
In most polls, Boasso's support peaked at around 2 percent. That suggests he hasn't been much of a threat thus far, so the best that could be said of his changing parties is that it probably won't adversely affect his own standing as a candidate. The vast majority of Republicans have embraced Jindal as The Golden Child, so the only other place to look for votes is among Democrats and moderate independents.
But that kind of misses the point -- the point being Jindal's huge lead. Time is running short. If somebody is going to bring Jindal down, he or she will have to go right at him, which is something no one has even begun to do yet.
Democrats, in fact, can't even find anyone willing to go out and face Jindal. They were relieved when Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced she would not run, and elated when former U.S. Sen. John Breaux said that he would. But, when nagging questions about Breaux's Louisiana citizenship chased him from the race -- and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu demurred -- the party suddenly found itself without anybody in its starting line-up.
Meanwhile, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat from Bossier Parish and the only significant Democrat to stay in the race thus far, has to feel really dissed. His own party continues to treat him like a non-starter, and every time a leading Democrat drops out of the race, he gets mentioned as more or less an afterthought.
In fact, Boasso's party switch may affect Campbell much more than it will Jindal, because much of the Democratic base resides below Interstate 10 (where roughly two-thirds of the state's electorate lives), and it remains up for grabs. And speaking of the Democratic base, Jindal recently picked up endorsements from most of the state's sheriffs and assessors -- key players in Democratic voter turnout efforts.
So how will Boasso fare as a Democrat?
"I didn't enter public service at the request of political parties, insiders, dealmakers or pundits," Boasso said in a prepared statement. "In fact, most of those people were uncomfortable with my candidacy then -- and they still are today."
Boasso has shed his GOP-based consultants and hired the exclusively Democratic firm of Ourso Beychok Johnson. Substantively, however, he swears he's the same fiscally conservative, pro-life businessman he always was. That could make him a tough sell among some traditional Democrats, particularly African-Americans. In announcing his switch, Boasso underscored his humble roots as the son of a retired schoolteacher and disabled union electrician. He started his own company and built it into a model of the American Dream. A rags-to-riches story always plays well, but Boasso will need to show a major bump in the polls if he's going to be a viable alternative to Jindal.
Meanwhile, the Republicans wasted no time tagging him. GOP state chairman Roger Villere released a terse statement, the full text of which read: "Some politicians switch parties because of philosophy and principle. Walter has made it clear that he is just the opposite. He's switching because he hasn't been successful as a Republican candidate."
The GOP seems to have no problem taking off the gloves. What are the Democrats waiting for?
- In switching his party affiliation last week from Republican back to Democrat, Walter Boasso proved that he doesn't mind cutting against the grain. But will his party switch make him more of a threat to his GOP rival Congressman Bobby Jindal?