The first Louisiana gubernatorial election I ever covered was in 1995. I was assigned to follow a guy named Quentin Dastugue, a smart, respected lawmaker from Jefferson Parish who went with a strategy of snagging the official Republican Party endorsement early on, the better to signal to like-minded voters that he was their guy.

Turns out he wasn’t. Dastugue didn’t even make it as far as qualifying, then watched from the sidelines as a state senator named Mike Foster, a Democrat until he became a Republican mid-campaign, sewed up the conservative vote and won the election.

Given the way it ended, this could be considered a success story for the party, at least compared to what has sometimes happened since. Twenty years after Foster’s win, Republicans fielded three major candidates for governor, and rather than focus on beating Democrat John Bel Edwards, David Vitter, Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle spent the primary season fighting among themselves. Vitter emerged on top but took on lots of water in the process, and Edwards dispatched him with relative ease in the runoff.

That experience led GOP party insiders to pine for a single candidate this time around, one who can unite Republican voters and focus exclusively on beating the incumbent Democrat. Their best option was U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, and his decision to stay put has left the field to two relative unknowns, businessman Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Still, party elders haven’t given up hope. This week a well-known Republican operative said in a radio interview that Republican officials are considering trying to pick a winner before voters go to the polls in October. 

“We’re going to try to do what we can to winnow the field down to one,” Scott Wilfong said in an interview with host Jim Engster. “We’ve already got a plan to try to look ahead and settle on one candidate ultimately.”

That makes perfect sense from a strategic point of view, but then, it also did in 1995 and 2015. History suggests that this is just one of those things that’s easier said than done.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.