Jeremy Alford Wednesday, March 5, 2014 0

Why should U.S. Sen. David Vitter have all the fun? He shouldn’t, according to the architects of the new Blue Pelican Super PAC that’s being built up to support the re-election of senior Sen. Mary Landrieu.

But unlike the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, which is the Super PAC backing Vitter’s gubernatorial bid, Blue Pelican won’t be making a push to have the state lift its $100,000 cap on donations to match federal giving guidelines.

The FLF is registered on both the state and federal level.

“I can’t say what the focus will be in the distant future, but we’re only going to be a federal Super PAC,” said Steve Verzwyvelt of Baton Rouge’s Southern Strategic Relations, Blue Pelican’s general consultant in Louisiana. “We haven’t made a buy yet. We’ll be doing that in the coming weeks and months.”

Ben Chao, a Democratic strategist with the D.C.-based Joe Trippi and Associates, is in charge of the playbook, which is being finalized. “We’re going to make the case for voters in Louisiana that it’s a good thing to keep Mary around and help them learn a little more about (GOP challenger Congressman Bill) Cassidy that might make them take a second look.”

So far, the Blue Pelican PAC has secured “several hundred thousand in pledges nationally.” But Chao said the group’s first deposit “could be significantly more.”

As for the Super PAC backing Vitter’s run for governor, Chao said it could soon have direct competition. “I think some of the people behind Blue Pelican could create a PAC for the governor’s race, too,” he said, adding it would not be a Super PAC.

Meanwhile, Cassidy has received his fair share of outside help from groups like Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group controlled by billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch.

And while Landrieu will certainly get a boost from Blue Pelican, politicos expect even more serious money to continue rolling in on her behalf from the Senate Majority PAC, which has already shelled out more than $3.8 million this election cycle, targeting five candidates around the country, including Cassidy.


Interpreting Vitter’s ‘Last Political Job’

One line from U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s announcement for governor in January stood out more than others: “This will be my last political job, elected or appointed, period.”

It jumped off the page and screen because some viewed it as a thinly veiled swipe at Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has gradually inserted himself on the national political stage and is undoubtedly running for president.

Vitter has been using the pledge on the campaign trail, most recently in Thibodaux.

So does his proclamation extend to running for re-election to his Senate seat in 2016, should he fail in his drive for the mansion?

“I’m not really focused on that right now,” Vitter told LaPolitics when asked whether the 2015 contest will be his last. “I’m only focused on this race for governor.”

If he’s elected, one of his first official acts would be to appoint his Senate replacement, which has spurred speculation about how that would factor in his campaign. It won’t, pledged Vitter.

“There will be absolutely no understanding, arrangement or deal tying any appointment to the campaign in any way,” he said.


Political Pressure Could Boost Pensions

House Retirement Chairman Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, said he knew something was up when he started noticing correspondence from retiree associations with not-so-subtle tag lines.

“Somewhere on the envelope or letterhead it reads, ‘Remember, retirees vote,’” he said laughing.

The second sign came from Louisiana’s “experience accounts,” which hold extra earnings for the four statewide retirement systems. They’re flush with cash.

Put it all together and you have a political environment ripe for increasing pension checks — especially since it has been five years since retired state workers and teachers have seen a boost.

“How could (lawmakers) vote no?” Pearson asked. “They’ll only tick off people.”

Dozens of bills have been filed for the upcoming session to address benefit increases, some permanent and others supplemental.

With sights set on the experience accounts, retirement system boards are getting behind bills that are being filed for cost of living adjustments. How much is the big question, with estimations topping out at around 2 percent.

While there’s a formula for determining that number, there are also variables, such as the possibility lawmakers will make a grab for all the money in experience accounts, not just the earning overages.

Pearson said he’s concerned about a permanent increase, but is willing to work with all parties. Most lawmakers probably won’t remember the early 2000s, he added, when experience accounts held a negative balance of $1 billion, which was wiped off the books and mixed into unfunded accrued liability, transforming it into a debt.


Abortion Poll  

After surviving attempts by lawmakers to defund it last year, Planned Parenthood is circulating the results of a November poll that suggest voters’ attitudes about reproductive health and pregnancy in Louisiana don’t fit neatly along a pro-life to pro-choice continuum.

Conducted by Hamilton Campaigns with 600 likely voters, with over-samples from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the poll found Republicans are still the leading preference for legislative seats, with 46 percent compared to 41 percent for Democrats and 12 percent undecided.

Drilling down to the key issue, the poll points to slightly more than half of Louisiana voters, or 54 percent, preferring a legislative candidate who focuses on creating jobs, increasing access to health care and protecting the middle class.

One-in-three, or 33 percent, want a candidate who focuses first on protecting traditional values and upholding a “pro-life, pro-family agenda.”

As for ending all government funds for Planned Parenthood, 37 percent were in favor, 56 were opposed and 7 percent had no opinion.

While cross-tabs were requested by LaPolitics but not provided, a poll memo stated that voters in the north Louisiana, New Orleans and Baton Rouge media markets were strongly opposed to defunding, while voters in the south were divided.

When voters were asked to describe themselves, 56 percent identified as pro-life, 26 percent pro-choice and 16 percent as “in between.” However, a majority of voters did not believe Roe versus Wade should be overturned; 33 percent were for overturn, compared to 59 percent for leaving the law in place.

Contacted for comment, Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum, said Planned Parenthood hired a company “whose client list is a veritable ‘who’s who’ of pro-abortion organizations to spin their pitiful national reputation into a positive.”

He said Planned Parenthood is expanding in Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans, and hopes to “accelerate abortion opportunities this year.” He said his organization is working with a larger coalition called NOLA Needs Peace.

“Louisiana residents have consistently demonstrated their strong commitment to life in the only poll that counts — the voting booth,” Mills said.

The issue isn’t weakening in the Legislature.

State Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, said that he plans on filing legislation this year to “maintain Louisiana’s ranking as the most pro-life state in the nation.” It’s expected that the issue of Planned Parenthood’s funding will play a part in those debates.

In related news, the state Dept. of Health and Hospitals announced it would back off its controversial emergency rules that would have overhauled Louisiana’s regulations on abortion clinics. The rules would have given DHH the authority to immediately shutter clinics with no opportunity for appeals regardless of the type of infraction.

Clinics argued the requirements being proposed were heavy-handed.

State officials say they were worried about potential lawsuits, but that they would eventually circle back around to the issue.


Is Senate Race Opening Up?

National rankings and a new poll suggest Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, may be closing in on incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu ahead of the fall election.

For starters, Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a website affiliated with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, has once again adjusted Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race. It started as a “Toss Up”; was changed to “Likely Democratic” in October; and is now officially back to “Toss Up.”

While the crystal ball gazers admitted that “we’re not going to underestimate (Landrieu), who has won three tough races and who benefits from a sterling political name,” they see a runoff with Cassidy as highly likely.

The report noted Cassidy has some problems on his right flank, stating, “a Louisiana midterm runoff would be different and, admittedly, hard to predict.”

Further evidence that the race has tightened can be found in an independent poll that’s showing Cassidy ahead of Landrieu, 44 percent to 40 percent. Rasmussen Reports, which leans conservative, surveyed 500 likely Louisiana voters. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.5 percentage points.

Those called were asked, “In thinking about the 2014 election for U.S. Senate, suppose you had a choice between Republican Bill Cassidy and Democrat Mary Landrieu. If the election were held today, would you vote for Republican Bill Cassidy or Democrat Mary Landrieu?”

Also included in the poll was state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, who matched Landrieu’s 42 percent in a two-person hypothetical race even though 40 percent of those polled had no idea who he was.

Landrieu’s overall favorable impression with respondents was 49 percent, compared to 47 percent unfavorable; Cassidy’s spread was 37-31 percent; and Hollis’ 31-20 percent.

The main difference between Cassidy and Hollis, of course, is that the congressman has been campaigning for more than a year while the state rep has been on the stump for only a couple of weeks.

While recent polls have shown Landrieu with a higher negative than positive job approval rating, this is the first poll to show her trailing in a trial heat in this campaign.

The poll result likely shows the effects of the heavy schedule of negative ads that have been run against her by Americans for Prosperity. In response, the Senate Majority PAC has stepped up its negative ads against Cassidy.

It’s also a sign that this race may be more about Landrieu’s vulnerability than the strength of her Republican opponents.


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