John Kennedy at Press Club 070119

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, addressed the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday, July 1, 2019.

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy said he hasn’t reconsidered his decision to stay out of the race for governor this year, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the 2019 election cycle.

Kennedy, R-Madisonville, said Monday his effort to help Attorney General Jeff Landry elect more conservative members to the Louisiana Legislature has started ramping up.

On Monday night, Kennedy will make his first endorsement of a legislative candidate, he said at the Press Club of Baton Rouge. He’s been raising money for the effort, which was started by U.S. Sen. David Vitter ahead of the 2007 elections as the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority and is now called the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority. 

“I do plan on being very involved to the extent candidates want me to,” Kennedy told the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday. “I’ve been raising money for the effort. I think it’s very important.”

Kennedy announced this spring he would join the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority, as he and Landry try to shift the state Legislature rightward amid an exodus of term-limited lawmakers. 

Kennedy is set to endorse Republican Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud, who is running for State Senate District 28. The seat, which was held by term-limited Democratic Sen. Eric LaFleur, of Ville Platte, is seen by Republicans as a flippable district. State Reps. Bernard LeBas and Robert Johnson, both Democrats, are also running for the seat.

Forty-seven of the Legislature’s 144 seats become open this year because of term limits.

Kennedy also said he thinks the governor’s race is “wide open,” and that Gov. John Bel Edwards has an advantage partly because of the more than $10 million he’s raised for his re-election effort.

“I don't think we're going to have a feel for things until the race really starts, and it hasn't really started yet. It'll start when people go on television,” Kennedy said. “I think it's going to be a very close race.”

President Donald Trump “might” get involved in the governor’s race, said Kennedy, who added he has talked to the president about the race but declined to divulge details of those talks. Republicans have eyed a visit by Trump in the later days of the race as a potential boost to defeat Edwards, the incumbent Democrat.

Kennedy was floated as a potentially strong challenger in the governor’s race for months before he decided late last year not to enter the ring. Asked whether he’s happy with the current field of Republicans, Kennedy said he "likes" Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, Edwards’ two main challengers.

“One of them will probably break out,” he said.

Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, is fighting to be re-elected in an increasingly Republican state, and the Republican Governors Association has targeted the seat as a potential pickup in a year where only three states are holding elections for governor. Polling has so far shown Edwards leading both opponents, with Abraham leading Rispone in second place.

If no candidate wins more than 50% in the Oct. 12 jungle primary, the top two vote-getters will advance to a November runoff election.


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com