My daddy used to tease us when something went wrong by saying, "God don't like ugly." After poring over the returns from last Saturday's (Sept. 30) primary -- the first statewide election since Hurricane Katrina -- I have a whole new take on my old man's wisdom.
The two statewide candidates who started the slime fest that otherwise passed for campaigns for secretary of state and insurance commissioner both lost outright. They are Mike Francis, the former head of the state GOP, and state Sen. James David Cain, respectively.
Francis billed himself as a self-made businessman and a Christian. The first part is self-evident. The second would be hard to prove if you watched his campaign -- or studied his personal history. Francis put a million dollars or so of his own money into his race, which is admirable. Not many folks put that much money where their mouths are. How he spent it is another matter.
Francis' attacks were initially confined to political blogs that hold themselves out as independent or "news" blogs, but which actually are for sale to the highest bidder. If you buy the services of the blogger, you get yourself pumped up and your opponent smeared regularly -- sometimes with emails to the legitimate press thrown in for good measure as "news alerts" and the like. (Not all blogs do this, only some.)
In the early going, Francis confined his attacks to fellow Republican Jay Dardenne, a state senator from Baton Rouge. Because both men are Republicans, Francis apparently figured he needed to lock up the God-fearing conservative vote early. He blasted Dardenne for everything from tax votes to abortion rights. Those are legitimate issues in a legislative or gubernatorial election, but neither has anything to do with secretary of state. Even so, all's fair in love, war and Louisiana politics.
What set Francis' attacks apart was their tone and intensity. Vituperative is one word that comes to mind, and that might be understating things.
In the late stages, Francis shifted gears and lumped Dardenne in with mutual foe state Sen. Francis Heitmeier of New Orleans, the only Democrat in the race. He called them both "liberals," which is a stretch for either man, but particularly for Dardenne.
At the end of the day, Francis ran third and Dardenne -- whom many thought a long shot three weeks ago -- finished first. It must have been sweet for Dardenne to finish that well, particularly after he picked up a contribution and a sign location from Francis' ex-wife, who is still fighting her "Christian" former husband of 30 years in court as part of a bitter 2004 divorce. The former Mrs. Francis even took him to court during the campaign and won a contempt citation against him; a Lafayette judge barred him from using funds from his $50 million-a-year oil-service company (part of what he and his ex are fighting over) in his campaign.
The other mudslinger who wound up losing ground was Cain, who started blasting interim Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon even before he introduced himself to voters. Again, there's nothing wrong with criticizing your opponent or with drawing clear distinctions between your own record and that of your adversary -- if the attacks are on target and skillfully delivered.
In Cain's case, the attack ads were heavy-handed to the point of being juvenile. During the campaign, Cain admitted several times that he doesn't know diddly about insurance -- he said he planned to hire really smart people to work for him. He would have done better if he had hired really smart people to write and produce his ads.
Donelon eked out a primary victory by less than 900 votes, and I can't help thinking that the 11 percent of the vote garnered by Libertarian candidate S.B.A. Zaitoon was a protest vote against all the dirt.
Like my daddy always said, God don't like ugly.
- The two candidates who started the slime fest lost outright. They are Mike Francis (left), the former head of the state GOP, and state Sen. James David Cain, who ran for secretary of state and insurance commissioner, respectively.