In the hit 1967 musical Camelot, Richard Harris, portraying King Arthur, croons the eternal question, "How to Handle a Woman?" The romantic tune concludes, of course, that the way to handle a woman is to "merely love her, love her, love her."
Arthur had it easy.
He merely had to unite medieval England and win the heart of the two-timing Guinevere. He didn't have to run for governor of Louisiana -- or get past Kathleen Blanco.
From the outset of the governor's race, Lt. Gov. Blanco led in all independent polls. A centrist Democrat, she maintained a commanding lead in her Acadian base and led among women across racial lines. In fact, her strongest cache of votes was among African-American women.
History tells us that centrist candidates typically wilt in the final weeks of a Louisiana open primary. That's what has happened in every wide-open race for governor since we first used the open primary system in 1979. Few thought this year would be any different.
For that reason, Blanco got little respect among contributors, despite her once commanding lead in the polls. As a result, fellow Democrats Richard Ieyoub and Randy Ewing as well as Republican leader Bobby Jindal raked in the lion's share of campaign contributions. Democrat Buddy Leach had his wife's considerable family fortune at his disposal.
So Blanco's fund-raising stalled -- but her standing in the polls remained strong all the way into the final week of the primary.
That was particularly vexing to Ieyoub and Leach, both of whom were counting on strong support among African-American voters. Given the fact that women voters already outnumber male electors in Louisiana by a percentage margin of nearly 55-45, and the fact that women vote in higher proportions than men, Ieyoub and Leach entered the final week of the campaign asking themselves the same question that haunted King Arthur: How to handle a woman?
The question was particularly numbing because the 60-year-old Blanco is very much a product of her generation of Southern women -- accomplished and strong, yet gracious and genteel. Definitely more of a steel magnolia than a feminazi.
That made Ieyoub's and Leach's predicament all the more troubling. Could they dare attack her without looking, at a minimum, unchivalrous? Or worse, without triggering a monumental backlash?
They came up with the only answer they could: yes, attack her.
But not directly.
Rather than attacking Blanco's integrity or credibility, they focused on her record and her own words during the campaign. Ieyoub dug up her voting record as a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission and found scores of instances in which she voted for utility rate increases. He also found at least one instance in which she voted against giving ratepayers a refund of millions in excessive charges.
On a separate front, Ieyoub blasted her for statements she made in response to a campaign questionnaire in which she discussed drastic changes to the Charity Hospital system -- a sacred cow in Louisiana. He accused her of planning to "dismantle" Charity.
Meanwhile, Leach launched an attack against her for opposing a $1 per hour hike in the statewide minimum wage. Aiming right at her female supporters, he said Blanco wants Louisiana women to try to raise their children on poverty wages.
The attacks took a toll. As of this writing (the day before Election Day), Blanco was clearly slipping in the polls. But worst of all, she failed to aggressively respond in the final debate. More so than the attacks, Blanco's weak response may have cost her a spot in the runoff. If she does make the cut (a fact which will be known by the time this issue is published), she will still have been weakened.
And her likely runoff opponent, Bobby Jindal, will have seen a few weaknesses in her armor.
More important, he'll know how to handle woman who's running for governor of Louisiana, particularly one who's leading in the polls: merely attack her, attack her, attack her. It may not appear chivalrous, but this ain't medieval England -- and running for governor of Louisiana is no game for wussies.