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State Rep. Rick Edmonds, left, R-Baton Rouge, and Benjamin Clapper, right, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, hold out their hands as they and others pray over Liz Murrill, center, Louisiana Solicitor General for the Louisiana Attorney General's Office, during the program held as part of The Louisiana Life March South, one of the state's largest pro-life demonstrations, in Baton Rouge Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. They were praying for Murrill because she will be involved when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case of Louisiana Act 620, the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, which requires abortion physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the procedure. An appeal on behalf of abortion clinics has been filed with the Supreme Court to block the 2014 law.

A top official in Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office has indicated she will run for attorney general in 2023 as long as Landry doesn’t run for reelection, in the strongest indication to date Landry is planning a bid for governor.

Liz Murrill, who represents Landry’s office before the U.S. Supreme Court as solicitor general, has filed paperwork for a run for attorney general in 2023, when voters will choose their statewide elected officials and state legislators.

John Litchfield, a New Orleans attorney who is Murrill’s campaign chairperson, said Murrill “plans to run and she intends to run if Jeff Landry does not run for re-election.”

Landry’s office’s rules require employees to resign or take unpaid leave if they run for political office, unless they get an exception that “must be approved in advance and may be granted by the Attorney General or his designee through specific written authority.”

It’s not clear whether Landry has granted that approval. His office did not respond to questions Friday.

Landry, who rose to prominence in the Tea Party wave in a brief congressional stint before becoming attorney general in 2015, is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2023, though he has not announced a bid. He has closely aligned himself with former President Donald Trump and set himself to the right of many other Republican politicians in the state - most recently by penning a column in the right-wing Hayride website that accused U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a fellow Republican, of selling out his constituents.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who is considered a more moderate Republican, has indicated he will likely run for governor in 2023.

Those two are considered the most high-profile likely candidates, with both raising big money for 2023. The sniping between them has already begun.

In April, Nungesser delivered a fiery speech before a couple hundred GOP activists in which he slammed Landry for “crucifying” fellow Republicans. He said later Landry couldn’t win an election for governor under Louisiana’s current open primary system because he’s too far right.

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Landry pushed unsuccessfully this year to move Louisiana to a closed-party primary system, which would see Republicans run against other Republicans in the primary to come up with a candidate who would run against a Democrat in the general election. Currently, all candidates regardless of party face off on the same primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff if no one gets over 50% -- a unique jungle primary system.

This week, Landry held Nungesser’s feet to the fire, challenging him to assume the power of the governorship while Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is traveling to a climate conference in Scotland this week. Landry tweeted: “Billy should immediately issue Executive Order terminating declaration of public health emergency and ending John Bel’s masking of our kids!”

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Landry has on several occasions undermined public health guidance on the coronavirus pandemic.

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Louisiana’s constitution says the lieutenant governor -- the No. 2 position in state government -- ”shall act as governor” whenever the governor is temporarily absent from the state.

Practically, though, Lieutenant Governors don’t really assume the governor’s powers when the governor goes out of town.

In 2014, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal was out of the state for about half the year as he laid the groundwork for a presidential bid, but then-Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne never took over to make gubernatorial decisions.

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In the 1990s, then-Lt. Gov. Paul Hardy was acting governor for the better part of a month, but said: “realistically speaking, I know my position, and I don’t plan on taking over the state of Louisiana in the absence of the governor.”

Nungesser spokesperson Veronica Mosgrove said his chief of staff is always notified when Edwards leaves the state, but “there have not been any issues that required him” to make gubernatorial decisions. He also doesn’t take advantage of a state law that allows him to get paid Edwards’ higher salary on days when he’s acting governor.

Billy Nungesser delivers fiery speech slamming 'disgusting' GOP tactics, confirms FBI probe

“I’m too focused on getting things done and don’t have time to grandstand,” Nungesser said in response to Landry’s tweet.

A version of Landry’s proposed gambit recently played out in Idaho. When the governor left town, the state’s far-right Republican lieutenant governor issued an executive order banning private employers from mandating their employees get vaccinated. That governor, a fellow Republican, repealed the order the next day, rendering it useless.

Capitol news bureau editor Mark Ballard contributed to this report. 

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