By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) announced last night that she will not seek a second term this November, bowing to a political reality created by her handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"I am choosing to do what is best for my state," Blanco said. "I will focus my time and energy for the next nine months on the people's work, not politics."
Analysts said Blanco's fate had been sealed long before the announcement.
"Katrina just washed away all the good that Governor Blanco has done for the state of Louisiana," said Donna Brazile, a Louisiana native, political consultant and campaign manager for Al Gore's 2000 presidential bid.
Attention immediately turned to former senator John Breaux (La.) who is seen as Democrats' strongest potential candidate against Rep. Bobby Jindal, the likely Republican nominee.
Breaux roiled Louisiana politics last month when he acknowledged an interest in running for governor. He said, however, that he would need to meet face to face with Blanco before making up his mind and would not run if she remained in the field.
Breaux, who thanked Blanco for her service to the state but made no mention of his intentions in a statement last night, has reached out to Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu -- the brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and another potential gubernatorial candidate -- to sound out his interest in a bid.
Charlie Cook, a national political analyst and native son of Louisiana, said it is a "close call" on whether Breaux runs, but he added that recent ads sponsored by the state Republican Party seeking to raise questions about Breaux's residency and eligibility for the office may backfire. The commercials "infuriated" Breaux, according to Cook, and "nudged him toward getting in."
For much of the past year, Blanco refused to back down from her pledge to run for reelection, going as far as to publicly reiterate her plans to run again last week.
Breaux's interest in the race complicated those plans, and many party insiders argued that Blanco should step aside for the good of the party, pointing to internal polls that showed her trailing Jindal badly in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups.
Her acknowledgment of the obvious revealed just how badly Blanco had been damaged by her much-criticized behavior in the days after Katrina ripped through her state.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune lambasted Blanco in a November 2005 editorial, saying that the natural disaster "sent Blanco reeling." The paper wrote, "She came across as at once paralyzed and desperate." Blanco was named one of the three worst governors in America by Time magazine. She was berated by members of Congress during testimony on Capitol Hill in late 2005.
Meanwhile, Jindal bounced back from his narrow loss to Blanco in 2003 to win the 1st District House seat vacated by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in 2004. Almost from the day of his congressional swearing-in, Jindal made clear he would seek a rematch in 2007 and formally declared his candidacy in late January. Jindal will not have the field to himself, however, as state Sen. Walter Boasso (R) has also declared his candidacy.
A number of other Democrats, including Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, have also announced their intention to run.
Curt Anderson, a consultant for Jindal, said Blanco's retirement will have little effect on his candidate. "Congressman Jindal is excited about the prospects of turning Louisiana around and is looking forward to doing just that," Anderson said. "He has been very straightforward from Day One about the fact that he is running for governor regardless of who else does."
But, Republicans are clearly concerned by the prospect of a Breaux candidacy.
The state party has already funded a flight of ads arguing that Breaux is no longer a Louisiana resident and therefore is ineligible to run for the state's highest office.
"John Breaux says he might run for governor, but you won't find him in Louisiana," a narrator says in the ad. "Here's his $3 million mansion in Maryland, paid for by the millions Breaux earned by selling his influence as a lobbyist." The commercial displays an aerial image of Breaux's home and goes on to note that the state constitution requires an individual to be a resident of the state for the past five years to run for governor. "Breaux may be wealthy and powerful, but he's not above the law," the ad concludes.
State Democrats believe the eligibility requirement is fungible, especially when it comes to Breaux, who was born in Crowley, La., and spent more than three decades representing the state in the House and Senate.