Afew polls are starting to surface in the race for state treasurer and they offer up a shared theme — this election is wide open and no one has it cornered.
That’s not much of a surprise.
Just getting voters to pay attention to this race will be a monumental challenge. Few actually care about the office; it is anything but politically sexy and there will be no other statewide elections on the Oct. 14 ballot.
It is an important position, though. The next treasurer will be charged with overseeing the state’s bank accounts. He or she will also chair the Bond Commission and set its agenda. And that’s where the real political leverage can be found. The commission oversees all government borrowing and it’s a place where donors and influencers commingle in hopes of scoring favorable votes and, more importantly, inclusion on agendas.
But the role of the treasurer also evolved under its last standard-bearer, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who upgraded his elected position last year and prompted a special election this fall. Kennedy was an outspoken fiscal hawk, an anti-governor of the highest order — no matter who was in office — and a ready-to-go quote-maker for the Louisiana press.
The position of treasurer is a brand-maker thanks to Kennedy and many of his possible replacements are attracted to that idea.
Yet none seem poised to take the crown — or even seize the lead in this developing race. Polling shows the undecided vote, as of now, is gigantic for a statewide race. Moreover, very few voters polled can even recognize a name in the early field. (Qualifying for the office is July 12-14.)
Even the trial heats run so far have the established candidates all within a couple of points of each other. So money and organization will certainly be key factors, although the primary victors will probably reach the runoff by spending less than $1 million each.
The latest development in the race comes courtesy of a woman who has not yet officially announced that she will be a candidate for state treasurer. Still, Angele Davis, president and CEO of the Davis Kelley Group, certainly looks the part.
She has fundraisers already scheduled and her performance in those events will tell us a lot about how this race might shape up. Davis’ host lists do show a who’s who of Louisiana politics — contributors and heavyweights such as Boysie Bollinger, Jimmy Maurin, Mark Romig, Gary Solomon and others.
But the name the candidates really want to be with is Kennedy, who has not yet tipped his hat on who he might support. A few of the candidates, however, have tried to stack their campaign teams with the personalities that helped Kennedy get to where he is today.
For now, it looks like a regional game. If Davis, a native of Baton Rouge; state Rep. Julie Stokes, of Kenner; and state Rep. John Schroder of Covington all qualify for the contest, a bidding war for white votes in southeast Louisiana will commence and could have the effect of splitting that portion of the regional electorate. All three are Republicans and politicos expect that all of them will make the race.
State Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia, another Republican, appears to the lone soul from north Louisiana, a region of the state the longtime lawmaker should be able to carry easily. His campaign would probably be well served by making a big push in Acadiana as well, where his rural messaging should resonate.
While Cajun Country could be the battlefield that matters most in the fall, Schroder could have a slight edge in a low turnout race if he can keep his native St. Tammany Parish, a critical GOP base, intact. Meanwhile, one of Stokes’ best advantages — being the only woman in the field — certainly won’t be helped by Davis making an official entry.
Stokes does have another advantage, and that’s the amount of media attention she has received in recent years for her unrelenting approach to both understanding Louisiana’s tax system and offering possible solutions. Even though she still has some work to do to increase her name recognition, Stokes may have some crossover ability, as evidenced by her showings across different demographics.
The same could be said about the other contenders as well, given the timeframe they’re working with. It just depends on how close to center on the ideological spectrum they want to move.
Taking all of this into account, the most important question in the race has still not been answered. Will a marketable Democrat from New Orleans get into this election? If the answer is yes, it could become an immediate game-changer in a field dominated by Republicans.
Of course, it probably won’t increase turnout. Or make many more people interested in the race. But we can always dream.