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Dardenne Dynasty

Louisiana's next U.S. senator?

8:04 AM, Mar 8, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Louisiana’s showing up a lot on cable TV these days. There’s the History Channel’s Swamp People, a hit series documenting the lives of Cajun alligator hunters in the swamps of coastal Louisiana. Over on A&E, you can watch Duck Dynasty, which features a self-professed family of rednecks who turned their northeast Louisiana-based duck call business into a multi-million dollar company. Tune into Country Music Television to catch one of three Louisiana-themed shows: Bayou Billionaires, My Big Redneck Vacation, and CMT’s newest program, Swamp Pawn, which is not to be confused with History’s Cajun Pawn Stars, a creole-flavored spinoff of the popular parent series. Sons of Guns, filmed in Baton Rouge, is the Discovery Channel’s second Louisiana show after the now-cancelled Ragin Cajuns. And this spring, A&E has a new reality series, The Governor’s Wife, which focuses on the third (much younger) wife of Louisiana’s 85-year-old convicted ex-governor Edwin Edwards.

Jay Dardenne

Jay Dardenne, a Republican who may try to take Democrat Mary Landrieu’s Senate seat next year, probably wouldn’t take credit for all of the recent attention Louisiana’s been getting, but he might as well. About a decade ago, Dardenne, then a state senator, co-authored a motion picture tax credit, providing the incentive for Hollywood and the TV networks to film in Bayou State. In his current position as lieutenant governor, he oversees the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism—which means Dardenne is Louisiana’s chief salesman. And those popular TV programs have been a great sales aid.

“I’ve worked very closely with the Swamp People guys and the Duck Dynasty folks in promoting Louisiana,” the 59-year-old Dardenne tells me in a phone interview. “It’s been beneficial to us from a tourism standpoint because people are fascinated by what they’re seeing on their shows and people are interested in authenticity. And we have a lot of authenticity in Louisiana. As I tell people all the time, you can’t stereotype everybody in Louisiana based on Uncle Si [on Duck Dynasty] or Troy Landry on Swamp People, but they are authentic, real people from Louisiana.”

Dardenne loves Louisiana. So much so, in fact, that it makes it difficult to believe he’d ever want to leave. But a PPP poll released last month showed him just three points behind Senator Landrieu, who is up for reelection in 2014. For a Democrat in an increasingly Republican state, Landrieu is a scrappy fighter with a familiar name, and knocking her off could be a deceptively tough task for the GOP. Dardenne’s strong showing in the poll (43 percent said they would vote for him against Landrieu’s 46 percent) has led the lifelong Baton Rouge resident to “ponder” moving to Washington.

“You can’t help but ponder it when you see some numbers like that and it gets people talking and wanting to know what you may be interested in doing,” Dardenne recently told Roll Call. “I guess ‘pondering’ is the best word—at least for right now.”

That set off a flurry of speculation about Dardenne’s political future in Louisiana. Many had thought Dardenne was looking instead at running for governor in 2015. “I had assumed all along that he has decided he was going to run for governor,” says Bob Mann, a professer at LSU and a former Democratic operative who is friendly with Dardenne. “This poll has given him some pause.”

Dardenne himself still says he’s more likely to run for governor.

“People are more ambitious for me than I am for myself,” he tells me. “I don’t have a particular timeline, but my main focus is on the 2015 governor’s race. That’s what I’ve anticipated looking at. This [Senate race] has kind of been a recent occurrence.”

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