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Eddie Rispone presents Bishop Robert Muench with the Crystal Fava Bean award during the 28th "What's Good in Baton Rouge" spring luncheon held Monday March 19 2018. The award for the highest and most prestigious recognition for a Lifetime of Distinguished Service.

In Louisiana, we call ourselves an open primary state, although political scientists would argue that is not the precise nomenclature for an election without party primaries. Paying a qualifying fee is all that it takes to run for office, even governor, the seat of fabled figures like Huey P. Long and Edwin W. Edwards.

Given the quality of candidates we get, sometimes, one might argue that the qualifying fee is too darn low.

But from the standpoint of political management, it's an all-comers game. That means that even as a sitting governor and the only Democrat of that stature in the Deep South, John Bel Edwards cannot be entirely sure that some troublemaker of his own party will not jump in come qualifying time next fall.

Realistically, the only and remote fear that Edwards might have is of a challenge from a disgruntled African-American politician, who might draw from the incumbent votes that he would typically get as the lone Democrat in the 2019 primary election.

However, the main bustle in this pre-election season has been among Republicans, who want to pick off the governor. Many of those "mentioned," often enough by themselves, as potential candidates are dropping away.

From a GOP standpoint, clearing the field for a single challenger has appeal. U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy of Madisonville is the beneficiary in theory. He has spent almost his whole adult life in public office and is a formidable fundraiser. He can run without giving up his U.S. Senate seat won only two years ago.

Despite the ethics laws, he can also transfer money from his federal campaign fund to an ostensibly independent political action committee that will attack Edwards' record.

"I haven't made a decision, but I will soon," Kennedy told The Associated Press last week.

It certainly appears more likely than not that his decision making was done a long time ago. The curtains will fall on the Hamlet act by Dec. 1, the senator says.

But in the open primary, anyone at all can run, and at least one Republican candidate with potential to upset others' calculations is still in the race, Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. That's pronounced Ris-poe-nee, if you are not familiar with him, and most people are not.

But he is a longtime backer of Republican business-oriented candidates. He has already pledged $5 million of his own money — probably not coincidentally, the most recently reported amount in the governor's campaign fund — to jump-start a campaign.

In these days of a president of the United States having previously held not even the humblest public office, who can gainsay the appeal of a successful businessman? Still, a self-funded candidate (and Rispone is probably likely to get more support from others in the business community) is one of the challenges for party management in an open primary state.

Neither party organization is strong enough to clear the field for its favored contender, but some challenges are far more likely than others. If as expected Kennedy runs, the discussion among the powers-that-be, such as they are, in the GOP will be whether to lean on Rispone or others to give him a clear shot in next October's primary.

Unfortunately for those seeking order in Louisiana politics, we have an open primary, and the qualifying fee is too darn low.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

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