They're not Congressman Bobby Jindal, that's for sure. Foster Campbell, the Democratic frontrunner by default, has a trademark country wit and decidedly liberal tax ideas. And Walter Boasso, a self-made millionaire running as a Republican, is thumbing his nose at Jindal, the GOP favorite, and openly discussing a party switch -- particularly after the GOP brass snubbed him and endorsed Jindal very early in the game.
Most polls released to the public show both men recording only 1 or 2 percentage points, with Campbell slightly ahead of Boasso. That's a far cry from the high marks Jindal consistently posts, but the number of undecided voters remains high in all surveys -- as it should six months before the Oct. 20 primary. Campbell and Boasso also are far below the $5 million fundraising mark that Jindal surpassed this month. Campbell has about $1 million in the bank, while Boasso has put up $2 million of his own cash and is promising to spend twice that.
But what the two lone wolves lack in green, they more than make up for in distinctiveness.
Campbell, a member of the Public Service Commission and former state senator from Oak Grove, has a silver tongue that he has used to demonize corporate giants like ExxonMobil and Entergy. He's a modern-day Louisiana populist, and he hopes to energize an electorate fatiguing on recovery just as Huey P. Long did after the calamitous 1927 flood.
The Louisiana Democratic Party, however, isn't rallying around Campbell. Even after Gov. Kathleen Blanco and former U.S. Sen. John Breaux took themselves out of contention, the media and the party treated Campbell as an afterthought. Getting more respect from either may take a vote of the party's state central committee -- or a runoff berth, says Democratic spokeswoman Julie Vezinot. "Right now, we're helping all Democrats," she says. "The field could become more packed if a Walter Boasso or someone else comes over into our fold, though."
For now, Campbell is happy to carry his own water. He recently ordered up a statewide radio buy to promote his trademark issue: eliminating state income taxes and replacing them with an updated version of the 1921 severance tax on oil and gas, only this time on foreign oil processed in Louisiana. It's a straightforward spot that's dramatically scored.
On his most recent campaign finance report, however, only two advertising expenditures are listed: $125 for KWCL in Oak Grove and $7,000 to WWL in New Orleans. Many more media buys will come, however, as the report also showed that Campbell loaned his campaign $300,000 from his own pocket on April 12, the day before the first-quarter reporting period ended.
Campbell's recent media buy was timed to coincide with the federal income tax deadline, but it will also introduce Campbell to the lion's share of Louisiana's voters. Folks in northwest Louisiana know that he has been pushing his populist tax agenda for more than a decade, and the "small fee" he proposes on foreign oil has brought him some statewide attention. He has fine-tuned his pitch to include refunding $3.1 billion to taxpayers if he's elected.
Louisiana will gain $1.7 billion in new revenue each year, he says, and more than half of the cash will go to coastal restoration. That could help Campbell shore up support in south Louisiana, supplementing his northern base, but he'll have to fight the oil industry to gain real ground. Larry Wall, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, says he has been fielding interviews almost daily to counter Campbell's claims. "The issue will never have the votes to pass, but just talking about the issue is threatening to people who want to move businesses here," Wall says.
The oil industry will get its share of free media in coming weeks as the press covers Campbell's ideas, but otherwise there's not much brewing in the way of organized opposition. "If he starts polling higher or is close to a runoff, we'll be pulling out all the stops," says one industry lobbyist.
First elected to the state senate in 2003, Republican Boasso hasn't had much time to make too many political enemies. And when it comes to fundraising, he has one benefit Campbell doesn't: personal wealth. He has amassed a fortune raising cattle, farming pine and running a company that maintains tank containers. Boasso also doesn't mind spending his own money to pursue his passions. He has a ranch with zebras and other exotic animals, and he has spent countless dollars to help his neighbors recover after Hurricane Katrina. In fact, he hot-wired a school bus in the desperate days following the storm to personally help evacuate people from St. Bernard Parish.
More than any other candidate running, or thinking of running, Boasso has the most intriguing story to tell. The Louisiana Republican Party, however, has already endorsed Jindal, despite the fact that qualifying is not until right after Labor Day. That move infuriated Boasso, but deep down it probably didn't matter much. From the starting gate, Boasso has maintained a sense of autonomy, and there were even rumors early on that he might run as an independent. "Let's demand we check party labels at the front door and do what's right for the people," Boasso says.
Roger F. Villere Jr., state GOP chairman, contends Boasso wasn't overlooked, but rather the party wanted to be prepared to take over the Mansion. "We took this action because we believe that we must send an immediate and unmistakable message to the voters," Villere says. For that call, Villere and Louisiana's Republicans may lose a rising star, and someone with deep pockets, because Boasso now is openly flirting with every other party but the GOP.
A party switch might work well for Boasso, because so far he has released only vague parts of his agenda. It worked like a charm for former Gov. Mike Foster, who switched from Democrat to Republican the day before qualifying in 1995 and then went on to win. Then again, a party switch may be portrayed as a mere tactic, as editorial writers did with Boasso's GetItDone.org Web site and campaign.
Boasso launched the group a few months before announcing his candidacy, insisting the exposure had nothing to do with his gubernatorial ambitions. A recent review of that Web site, which was established in October, shows little or no activity since the initial announcement and related radio spots. The calendar of events lists only dates for the legislative sessions from the past two years, and two community meetings -- one has a date for February and the other has nothing listed.
Whatever Boasso does, he'd better do it fast. The news of his potential jump might be exciting fodder for political junkies, but if it persists well into the summer, it could dominate his entire message and outshine any chance he has of boosting his fall numbers, says Joshua Stockley, former president of Louisiana Political Science Association and professor of government at Nicholls State University. "This may be a shrewd move to up his name recognition statewide, but if he keeps shopping around like this, there is a real danger people will talk more about the switch than his agenda," Stockley says. "Both he and Campbell are second-tier candidates, and they're both looking for ways to increase their stock."
Jeremy Alford can be reached at email@example.com.
- Bobby Jindal is out front in the governor's race, but he's being challenged by self-made millionaire Walter Boasso (left), currently a Republican, and Democrat Foster Campbell. Though they may not have the $5 million Jindal has in his warchest, each plans to give him a run for his money.