Jim Beam column:Picayune picks Waguespack

Published 7:10 am Saturday, September 23, 2023

The endorsement of Republican Stephen Waguespack for Louisiana governor in the Oct. 14 primary by The Times-Picayune/Nola.com is reminiscent of the 1987 gubernatorial campaign, an election won by Buddy Roemer of Bossier City, who was a Democrat.

Roemer, a U.S. representative at the time, was also endorsed by The Times-Picayune. He was in fifth place in polling at the time behind former Democratic Gov. Edwin W. Edwards and Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston. Edwards had been governor from 1972-80 and from 1984-1988.

Other newspapers also endorsed Roemer and he finished first in the Oct. 24, 1987, primary with 33.1% of the vote. Edwards was second at 28.1% but he withdrew and no runoff was necessary.

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Roemer was a great speaker and young people were attracted to his campaign. In an Oct. 18, 1987, column I said Roemer’s campaign strategy brought morality to gubernatorial elections in Louisiana for the first time in many years.

“He practices what he preaches,” I said. He refused to take cash contributions, contributions from political action committees (PACs) or contributions of more than $5,000. And he hadn’t borrowed any money up to that time.

9WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge had some interesting poll numbers on the current gubernatorial election in a Sept. 18 report.

“When you take Jeff Landry’s name out of the mix, a poll conducted by Gray Media, the owners of WAFB, and Mason-Dixon Polling Strategy shows more people have no idea who the other candidates are than those that do,” WAFB said.

The poll showed Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry had a 46% “recognize favorable” rating and a 9% “don’t recognize”  rating. Democrat Shawn Wilson’s ratings were 28% and 34%; Waguespack, 24%, 27%; GOP state Treasurer John Schroder, 17%, 37%; independent Hunter Lundy, 14%, 42%; and Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, 11%, 59%.

As we said before, name recognition is a major factor in any campaign. WAFB said Ron Faucheux, a national polling expert, called name recognition “a steep hill for the rest of the candidates.” Other major factors, Faucheux said, are lack of money supporting their campaigns and the lack of voter engagement in Louisiana’s statewide elections.

Faucheux, in an earlier column in The Advocate, said the Oct. 12, 2019, statewide primary had a total turnout of only 46%. He said currently there are 3 million registered voters in Louisiana. Of those, 63% are White, 31% are Black, and 6% are other races.

When Edwin Edwards defeated Republican Dave Treen in the Oct. 22, 1983, primary, the voter turnout was 76.65%. As Faucheux said, that 1983 percentage shows today’s voters have clearly lost interest in Louisiana’s statewide elections.

When asked, those surveyed for the WAFB poll were asked at the time who would get their vote. It was Landry, 40%; Wilson, 24%; Waguespack, 9%; Lundy, 4%; Schroder, 3%; and Hewitt, 2%.

In a runoff, it was Landry, 52%, and Wilson, 39%. The poll showed 70% of Whites support Landry and 74% of Blacks support Wilson.

The Times-Picayune/Nola.com endorsement will definitely help Waguespack but to what extent it’s difficult to tell. However, it definitely helps him with name recognition that could grow if other media outlets follow suit.

The endorsement editorial said, “At this critical juncture, we can’t afford to backtrack. Our next governor must be laser focused on Louisiana’s future, not distracted by Washington-style sideshows. While our state has met some enormous challenges in the past eight years, we now face new threats: an insurance affordability crisis; a tide of young, educated Louisianans leaving the state to seek opportunities elsewhere; a frightening spike in crime; the ravages of climate change; and a perception that Louisiana is hostile not only to businesses but also to many individuals.”

Waguespack said he will extend Democratic John Bel Edwards’ expansion of Medicaid, which the editorial said shows he empathizes with working families who need affordable health care. It calls him “a pragmatic, realistic conservative —not an ideologue or demagogue.”

We have certainly experienced too many demagogues in recent years. And the editorial said Waguespack “will best represent Louisiana to the nation  and the world by projecting an image of competence, courage, and compassion.”

Only time will tell how much this endorsement will help Waguespack but it does offer an alternative for voters looking for someone other than Landry, who has a wide lead.

The Waguespack campaign workers will definitely be looking for ways to use this endorsement to help their candidate. And they have to do it quickly. The primary is only three weeks away.