Enjoy the Thanksgiving break, Louisiana voters. Maybe try to talk about something other than politics over dinner, if your family dynamics allow for that. Then watch the Saints (hopefully) make a second meal of the Atlanta Falcons on national television.
Because when you come back to reality the following week, we’re going to have ourselves a governor’s race.
Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy has said he’ll finally decide whether he’s running to unseat Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019 by the first of December. He’s long been expected to jump into the race and would have the name recognition to give the governor a run for his money in right-leaning Louisiana.
Other potential challengers are circling too.
Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone has announced. He’s won the support of the one of the state’s best-known Republican funders, Lane Grigsby, who has taken the unusual step of preemptively criticizing Kennedy. U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, is now safely reelected to Congress, which means he can now turn his attention to a governor’s race, if he sees a path to victory. State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, a former oil industry executive, is still out there, too; she’s not as well known but could be appealing to a key demographic, college-educated suburban women. Attorney General Jeff Landry could run if Kennedy doesn’t.
Then there’s Steve Scalise, who’s coming off a stint as House Majority Whip up in Washington. Before the election, Scalise insisted he wouldn’t be a candidate for governor no matter how his Republican Party fared in its bid to keep control of Congress. Now that the GOP is officially heading out of power and Scalise is no longer eligible to move up to majority leader or even House speaker, some of his fellow Republicans are quietly pulling for him to reconsider.
That’s a lot of names, and it raises the possibility that the party could find itself in the same sort of pickle as last time, when Edwards got to sit back and watch Republican primary combatants battle it out for the chance to take him on one-on-one in the runoff. David Vitter emerged from that sort of scenario in 2015, but feelings were so raw that his vanquished opponents refused to support him against Edwards. Among those warning against a replay are state Republican chairmain Louis Gurvich and Landry.
Even as the Republicans are worrying about their own house, they’re well aware that they’ve got to worry about Edwards, too.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is waiting at least a couple more weeks to say whether he will run for governor next year. But on a recent day in Denha…
Gone are the days when they wrongly figured that whoever emerged from the intramural scrum would easily dispatch the lawmaker from Amite. Louisiana may tilt red, but Edwards has emerged as a formidable opponent.
He won’t sneak up on anyone this time around, but he’ll have all the advantages of incumbency, including plenty of money and a bully pulpit he’s already using aggressively. He’s also got some accomplishments to run on, including the end to the state’s long-running fiscal crisis. His main priority for next year is to win a teacher pay raise, a cause that is likely to win bipartisan support.
And he’s proven that he can walk the partisan tightrope. Edwards has won over President Donald Trump, who has invited him to the White House repeatedly and never offered a critical word. And polls suggest he’s earned the good will of many voters, not just Democrats but Republican leaners who are willing to consider crossing party lines, as many of them did the last time.
Still, Edwards’ status as Democratic leader of a Republican state makes him a juicy target. So does the calendar; Louisiana is one of just a handful of states holding elections in 2019, so the race won’t get drowned out by bigger things.
These off-year contests help parties create momentum going into national election years, and both Democrats and Republicans surely view the Governor’s Mansion as a potential prize worth trumpeting.
Kennedy’s imminent announcement, whatever it is, will be the opening note what promises to be a long campaign.