Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Louisiana Governor: Backlash Anyone?

By Stuart Rothenberg

In one of the hardest hitting – Republicans will undoubtedly say “dirtiest” – television ads aired in history, the Louisiana Democratic Party is accusing Rep. Bobby Jindal of being anti-Protestant.

The bizarre charge is delivered by an unidentified woman in a new Louisiana Democratic Party TV ad produced by Carvin/Seder Communications, a Louisiana-based consulting firm whose clients have included former Governor Edwin Edwards (D-La.), Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D) and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D).

In the TV spot, the announcer charges that Jindal wrote articles that “insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants,” and she holds up an article in which she says Jindal “doubts the morals and questions the beliefs of Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals and other Protestant religions.”

The ad directs interested viewers to a website, www.JindalonReligion.com. (However, unless you are a subscriber to The New Oxford Review, you won’t be able to read Jindal’s entire articles.)

Polls have shown Jindal with a large lead in this year’s race for governor, which will take place in October. A November runoff would follow if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote.

The ads are an obvious attempt to destroy Jindal in Protestant North Louisiana (they are not running in the heavily Catholic southern part of the state), a generally conservative part of the state where he underperformed four years ago, when he narrowly lost his last bid for governor to Kathleen Blanco (D). Blanco chose not to seek reelection – a wise move considering reviews of her performance after Hurricane Katrina and her standing with state voters.

Democrats were unable to come up with a top tier candidate for the race, but they hope that either State Sen. Walter Boasso (who recently jumped from the GOP to the Democratic Party) or Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell can knock off Jindal in a runoff.

The state Democratic Party’s charges are so inflammatory that they place a huge burden on Democrats to justify them. While the TV ad accuses Jindal of being intolerant, it automatically raises questions about the Louisiana Democratic Party’s judgment, and Republicans are certain to charge that it is Democrats who are interjecting religion into the campaign.

The Jindal campaign has already fired off an email to supporters charging that “old-guard political operatives” have “declared a war on Bobby's Christian Faith” and adding that “these desperate political operatives are launching an attack on ALL people of Faith.”

For Democrats willing to play with fire, the decision to run the ad may have been an easy one. Jindal appears headed for victory, so anything that could disrupt the campaign and peel votes away from the Republican can only improve the Louisiana Democratic Party’s chances of forcing a runoff.

Still, the ad is bound to shock viewers, both for the charges in it and because a major state party would produce such a spot. Stay tuned to see what kind of backlash the ads generate and whether they substantially damage Jindal’s standing in the race for Governor.