When statewide candidates released their campaign finance reports recently, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal were much closer at the bank, where the governor had a narrow lead than in the polls, where the challenger has a wide one.
Yet the money chase might not be tight for long, as Jindal raised two and a half times more than Blanco did in 2006--with most of his activity in the last four months--to end the year with $2.67 million cash on hand to her $3 million. At that rate, by this date, he may have already passed her. And he's just getting started.
More challenging for Blanco is that she is coming up on a three-month blackout period due to a law she signed that bans the governor from raising money during the legislative session and the month afterward. Her challenger is not so constrained.
Before the financial reports came out, Democrats already were nervous about the embattled incumbent leading them into an election year. Now they are starting to panic.
As one partisan put it, 'With every tick of the clock it gets harder to catch Jindal' financially. If Blanco, to delay the onset of lame-duckness, waits until the end of the legislative session in late June before withdrawing from the race, she may as well stay in, for it would be too late for another Democrat to start from scratch.
That urgency has increased pressure on former Sen. John Breaux to forsake his high-powered lobbying gig to come to the aid of his party. He opened that door more than a crack at Washington Mardi Gras by telling friends and associates that he is interested in running if Blanco does not.
He wasn't coy about it, even after hosting a fund-raiser there for Blanco. 'He was telling everybody,' said a friend of his, adding, 'This is the most interested I've seen him than all the other BS we've been through.'
That would be the 2003 governor's race, which could not start until Breaux, after entertaining the idea, finally declared he would not run. The same for the 2004 U.S. Senate race, when he held the political community in suspense before calling a press conference to announce he would not seek re-election.
Now, as then, the odds seemed stacked against anything more than another Breaux tease, one last star turn before getting back to his well-paid good life in the private sector.
Even if the Breaux talk gets more serious, there are questions to resolve about his residency and the intense drive it would require of him (and for his wife Lois) to mount a statewide campaign again. He has not been on the ballot since 1998 and not had a hard race since 1986. He turns 63 next week.
On the other side, there is the inestimable lure of the governor's office, enhanced by having his old Democratic colleagues controlling Congress and revenue overflowing from the state treasury. He may be pulling down a million dollars per year, but for a public official nearly all his adult life, there is a wide psychic gulf between calling on someone and being the one called on.
Should both Blanco and Breaux pass on the race, right of next refusal would go to Congressman Charlie Melancon or Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Former Congressman Chris John is willing, but he's at the back of the line.
At this point, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is the one Democratic officeholder who is not waiting for the incumbent to go away. Though he hasn't announced, he is organizing his gubernatorial campaign and reports having $558,000 in the bank.
No doubt, the Democrats' indiscreet search for alternatives chafes at Gov. Blanco, who was never a party favorite to start with. They can wring their hands and drop all kinds of hints, but she has $3 million to tell her side of the story and the prerogative to do so, regardless of how crowded it gets in the wings.
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