John Kennedy

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has hit the halfway mark of his first term, so while his reelection bid is still nearly two years off, Republicans have already had that long to figure out who might challenge him.

With the most formidable potential opponent still on the sidelines, the picture remains as clear as mud.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is just one year into his first six-year term in Washington, but the longtime state treasurer has managed to stoke rampant speculation that he'll challenge Edwards in 2019. Yet when the Associated Press's Melinda Deslatte tried to pin him down this week, Kennedy only allowed that he's "thinking about it," and said "I will run if it feels right to me."

Grace Notes: John Bel Edwards focused on fiscal cliff, but also the future of his political career

Sen. John Kennedy: 'I'm thinking about' run for governor; other GOP figures size up 2019 race

He also said that his decision would have nothing to do with who else might run, and that he has no timetable for making the call.

That uncertainty can't be music to the ears of other Republicans thinking of getting in — people like U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, to name a few — or of party leaders who want to put their money and energy behind the strongest possible candidate rather than face a splintered field.

But it makes some sense, given real questions over whether Edwards is as vulnerable as some Republican leaders have long considered him.

Edwards ran a smart race against a flawed opponent, Kennedy's Senate predecessor David Vitter, and benefited from the sort of bitter intramural GOP primary fight that strategists hope to avert next time around. Yet Edwards' approval rating has proven remarkably resilient, and he allowed this week that he's planning some traditionally conservative initiatives for this year's regular session, which could take some of the wind out of opposition sails.

Unlike some other potential candidates, Kennedy's got the profile to get in and make a splash at the last minute.

But for him, getting in would also be a bigger risk. As Vitter doesn't have to tell him, the one sure way to lose that "formidable" label is to go down as a Republican who couldn't beat a Democrat in a deep red state.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.