Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy says he still hasn't decided whether he will run for governor in 2019, but plenty of groups are urging him and have shown him favorable polling data.
"I'm thinking seriously about it but I have not made a decision," Kennedy told reporters Wednesday, a day after U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise put to bed speculation about himself with a firm denial that he would run against Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.
Kennedy, of Madisonville, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, beating out a packed field of candidates that included two sitting Congressmen. He previously spent nearly two decades as state treasurer.
In a radio interview this week, Kennedy said he thinks the governor should resign early and let Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser run the state.
"I just don't think (Edwards) can run the government, and if he can't he needs to step down and let Nungesser take a shot," Kennedy said during an interview this week on KPEL NewsTalk radio in Acadiana.
Kennedy's comments come as the Legislature continues to battle over the best way to shore up the state's finances ahead of a $650 million fiscal cliff the state faces when more than $1 billion in temporary taxes expire June 30.
Kennedy, who has frequently positioned himself at odds with Edwards and weighed in on state issues often to criticize the governor, has often been speculated as a potential Republican challenger as Edwards seeks a second term. But he has repeatedly declined to say whether he will or will not run, stoking speculation that he may join the race.
"I've answered that question the same way every time, and it's the truth," Kennedy said Wednesday. "I've been asked to run by a number of groups — I know politicians always say that, but I really have — and they have shown me polling data that says I'd have a really good shot to win."
On Tuesday, Scalise, who is the No. 3 ranking member in the U.S. House and currently the longest-serving member of Louisiana's Congressional delegation, said flatly that there is "no way" he will run for governor next year.
No one has formally announced their candidacy to challenge Edwards in his re-election bid, but several other Republicans are at least said to be mulling the idea. Those most often mentioned as possible Edwards foes include Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, State Sen. Sharon Hewitt and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry president Stephen Waguespack.
Because Louisiana's gubernatorial races are held during a thin national cycle, 2019 is expected to be an especially heated and high-profile race, drawing attention from the national parties.
Edwards, who has been aggressively fundraising since taking office, is the only governor in the Deep South who is a Democrat and Louisiana's only state-wide elected Democrat.
Kennedy, who was a Democrat until he changed parties in 2007, said during the radio show earlier this week that he thinks Edwards is too liberal for Louisiana.
"I've known John Bel for 10 years. He's very smart, he's a nice guy, he's a liberal Democrat and he wants his way," Kennedy said. "He thinks he has a mandate. He thinks his mandate is to tax and spend like they do in Massachusetts and California."
He said that Edwards "can't hack it" and should resign, remarks that Richard Carbo, the governor's spokesman, called "childish."
"Sen. Kennedy's absurdity knows no limits," Carbo said. "He hasn't passed a single bill since being elected to the Senate, but has an infinite amount of time to do media interviews.We could similarly ask him to step down for being the most ineffective member of Congress, but that'd be nothing out of the ordinary as he's run for every political office under the sun. You don't see this kind of behavior from other elected officials because they're busy doing their jobs."
Since taking office, Edwards has frequently clashed with House Republican leaders and others in the GOP, including those who have received the most chatter as possible challengers.
The special session that begins Monday will be the seventh since Edwards took office in January 2016.