Don't think it's a done deal that Sen. David Vitter will be Louisiana's next governor; he still has to get through Lieutenant Gov. Jay Dardenne. And Dardenne is making moves to show he's ready for a fight.
Dardenne is crisscrossing the state raising money for a likely gubernatorial bid, according to consultant Sally Nungesser, who is running his finance efforts.
Dardenne raised more more than $118,000 at a high-profile fundraiser at Republican consultant Mary Matalin's home in New Orleans on Wednesday night, Nungesser said, his fifth fundraiser so far this year.
Though Wednesday night's event was not specifically billed as a gubernatorial fundraiser, the invitation says that any donor who gives $5,000 to the campaign "before the 2015 Governor's election" will be named to Dardenne's "JayWalkers" club for major contributors. It also listed 152 co-hosts, a third of whom have already hit the $5,000 mark. "He has said that he fully intends to run. ... I think it's pretty clear to everybody that they are giving in the hopes that he runs for governor," Nungesser said.
Dardenne has been fundraising aggressively since he won reelection in 2011 by a six-point margin. He held 22 fundraising events in 2012 and has another two coming up this month, according to Nungesser. As rumors were flying earlier this year that Dardenne could be a candidate for the Senate, he told Hotline On Call that he was focused on 2015 and had raised $850,000 in 2012 "just looking to the future." Dardenne is hoping to get a head start on the gubernatorial contest in order to "encourage some others who would maybe think about it to maybe not run," Nungesser said.
Left unnamed is Vitter, who has been getting a lot of positive press lately about a potential bid. One of those pieces, a lengthy cover story in this week's Gambit called Vitter "the de facto leader of the state's GOP." That must smart for Dardenne, who is next in line behind the state's unpopular governor, Bobby Jindal.
Vitter has also been working behind the scenes to unite the party ahead of next year's Senate race and reportedly talked Rep. John Fleming out of a primary against Rep. Bill Cassidy. After Jindal's chief of staff abruptly left Cassidy's team last year, Vitter's former communications director Joel DiGrado stepped up.
Nungesser, who has also worked on campaigns for Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Louisiana Govs. Mike Foster and Dave Treen, said she has never seen a gubernatorial contest get started this early, but she was encouraged by Wednesday's fundraiser. "This would have matched any of those events [for Jindal, et al] in terms of the number of people, the level of excitement, the level of giving. ... It was great," she said.
Jindal is term-limited in 2015.
UPDATE: Dardenne said in a phone interview that he does plan to run for governor, but has not yet made an official announcement. He said that he decided to start fundraising early both because his campaign account was wiped out in his 2011 reelection race and to get to donors before other Republicans can enter the race. "(You) have to show people that you're a viable candidate that ought to be in a gubernatorial race," Dardenne said.
He has not, however, begun polling or hiring consultants for the campaign. That will come later, he said.
And for those wondering, yes, Sally Nungesser is related to Billy Nungesser, Dardenne's 2012 opponent. She tried to talk him out of running, Dardenne said. "I love him dearly," Nungesser added in an email. "But I told him when he decided to run against Jay that I couldn't be for him."