Louisiana GOP chair calls Republican Jay Dardenne ‘the Nick Saban of Louisiana politics’ _lowres

As John Bel Edwards, wife Donna Edwards and wife Cathy Dardenne watch, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, second from right, announces his endorsement of John Bel Edwards at LSU's Free Speech Alley in 2015.

When I registered to vote for the first time, as a Republican, the nice lady at the courthouse tried to talk me out of it. For the best of motives: That was more than 40 years ago, when elections were typically decided by Democrats, who were almost all the registrants, voting in primary and runoff elections.

But human nature being what it is, the dominant Democrats were deeply split into factions — reflecting not just regional interests and differing underlying economics of north, south and western Louisiana, but ideology. There were “national” Democrats who embraced more liberal politics, segregationists against civil rights laws, pro-union or pro-business Democrats, even still pro- and anti-Long factions from the old, old days.

When you said "Louisiana Democratic Party," which of six parties did you mean?

That was during Edwin W. Edwards’ first term, when it was still remarkable to have a governor from south Louisiana, and one of Cajun heritage, who took the oath of office in 1972 in English and French.

Ultimately, Edwards’ nonpartisan primary led to the growth of the modern GOP. Today it is dominant at the ballot box.

But is it as factionalized as the old Democrats were?

That is the underlying issue for the relatively little-known Republicans who are now considering whether to run for governor next year. The election will be Oct. 12, with a Nov. 16 runoff if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary. The qualifying period will be Aug. 6-8.

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy of Madisonville is out of the race, as is Attorney General Jeff Landry, two of the arch-critics of incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards.

Since Edwards is the incumbent, differences among the Republicans are not as apparent. After all, there is a united front among the partisans that Edwards should be replaced. Just about all the GOP entrants will call themselves conservatives, but that can mean different things to different segments of the voters.

Now that the race is unfrozen by Kennedy’s announcement, the question is not just how GOP contenders will attack Edwards. After all, courtesy of Edwin W. Edwards, we have an open primary and everybody votes at the same time.

On one hand, given that people tend to vote more often these days by party label in races from governor down to school board or constable, a single Republican contender — if there is a November runoff — starts with a probable base of about 45 percent.

Getting to a majority might be difficult, depending in part on events over the next year. Edwards is thought to be a strong candidate. Incumbents have natural advantages, as demonstrated by the prominent Republicans who are Edwards' contributors this time around.

But the first question for a GOP campaign is how to get ahead of his or her fellows.

Who will be the most articulate critic of Edwards? That is the first hurdle, but who emerges in a crowded primary field may hinge on another question: Who has the most plausible positive program for the state?

Differences may well emerge among multiple Republicans in the race. What one proposes to do in office is not a question that can lie unanswered during the long months of campaigning ahead.

That will require some deeper thinking from candidates over the Christmas holiday season than may be apparent in the scramble of today’s GOP wanna-bes.

Stephanie Grace: What Kennedy's passing on governor's race is really saying ... Edwards popular, doing a good job

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.