The first campaign finance reports for the 2003 governor's race offer a glimpse of the early front-runners, at least in terms of fund-raising. History tells us that front-runners rarely win open contests, but as money becomes tighter, trailers may find it increasingly difficult to catch up.
So far, we have 11 announced or semi-announced candidates -- five Democrats and six Republicans.
The Democrats include Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, former state Senate President Randy Ewing, Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, state Treasurer John Kennedy and former state Rep. Buddy Leach.
The six Republicans are state Rep. Hunt Downer, state Senate President John Hainkel, state Sen. Ken Hollis, former state Health Secretary Bobby Jindal, former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle and former Gov. Dave Treen.
The reports filed last week cover campaign fund-raising and expenditures during 2002.
Of the 11 prospective candidates, only eight filed reports. Jindal, Kyle and Treen did not file, presumably because they raised and spent no money last year. Kyle did not get into the race until very recently. Jindal is expected to announce this week. Treen has not yet announced his intentions.
If you want to know what a candidate is really all about, then follow the old Watergate-era admonition and "follow the money." It's easy: log on to the state Ethics Commission Web site at www.ethics.state.la.us and click "View Reports."
Here's what the reports show about the candidates:
· Ieyoub is the clear leader in terms of third-party contributions and cash on hand. He raised more than $1.26 million from contributors (none from himself), spent $260,000 and had $2.1 million on hand. He also had the most at the start of 2002 ($1.07 million). Financially speaking, he's in the best shape of the field.
· Ewing, the quiet former Senate president from north Louisiana, has been busy raising money. He took in more than $830,000 in contributions, loaned his campaign another $275,000 and had more than $1.02 million on hand. Look for him to start making noise.
· Blanco raised $549,000 in contributions -- not a lot for a statewide official eyeing the Mansion -- but she had more than $1.06 million on hand. She loaned her campaign $125,000 last year and spent a mere $63,000, but she leads in many early polls because of her high name recognition.
· Leach easily out-spent all the others combined last year -- dropping $1.28 million on statewide advertising and staffing -- yet he raised the least in third-party contributions (less than $22,000). He loaned his campaign $1.39 million and presumably will pony up more in the months ahead. He ended 2002 with $135,000 on hand -- and a rich wife who no doubt loves him dearly.
· Kennedy had $813,000 on hand (fourth among the eight filers) and raised $540,000 in contributions (none from himself). He spent $137,000. He is said to be raising money furiously these days, but that's what all candidates ought to be about.
· Hollis raised a mere $114,000 from third parties but loaned his campaign nearly $450,000 last year. He spent only $60,000 and soon must decide whether to fish or cut bait. He has money -- $712,000 on hand at the end of 2002 -- but he'll have to show support from outside his household if he's going to be taken seriously.
· Downer raised $584,000 in contributions (none from himself) and spent roughly $78,000. He had $557,000 on hand at year-end -- and the hope of getting Gov. Mike Foster's support. But, with Jindal about to enter the race, 2003 could be a real downer for the Houma Republican. He has the backing of Congressman Billy Tauzin, so he's showing strength in his home base.
· Hainkel filed a report showing him running for re-election to the state Senate, but otherwise he presents himself as a candidate for governor. He took in $104,000 in contributions and spent $60,000. Thanks to $187,000 in funds at the start of 2002, he finished the year with $236,000 on hand -- making him the poor man of the field.
Unless, of course, Mrs. Leach decides to invest elsewhere.