One notable aspect of U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham's quasi-announcement that he may or may not run for governor in 2019 is that he's not really a household name in much of the state.
Abraham's got an intriguing résumé — he's been both a veterinarian and an MD, an aircraft commander in the Coast Guard Auxiliary and a licensed pilot who transports patients at no cost to medical facilities. But he has a relatively low profile compared to other possible Republican challengers to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. The Alto resident just entered public life in 2014, when he was elected to replace the so-called "kissing congressman," Vance McAllister. Abraham's largely rural district only skirts the vote-rich major media markets of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
But there's something else that's worth noting about news that Abraham is eyeing the race and expects to make a decision in the first part of 2018: It actually came from him, not via the rumor mill.
"We know that sometime in the next quarter or second quarter at the latest we have to make the call," Abraham told Greg Hilburn of the USA Today Network. And that means the long-anticipated race, still a little less than two years away, has entered a new phase.
For one thing, Abraham may have gotten another potential candidate to tip his hand. Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has picked fight after fight with Edwards but has kept his electoral plans to himself, turned heads by tweeting out a show of support after Hilburn's story was published.
The tweet may also have been a shot at U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who is said to be thinking of running and who was on the other side of a recent showdown over a key appeals court appointment. Kennedy resisted, then ultimately backed, the appointment of lawyer Kyle Duncan to join the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, while Landry took part in the lobbying effort for Duncan, a prominent figure on the anti-abortion right. Whatever his intent, Landry's tweet that Abraham "would make a great governor" and that "we could count on his pro-life record!" does hint that he's willing to promote a candidate other than himself.
For another thing, Abraham set out a timetable for Landry, Kennedy and anyone else who's thinking of getting in to act. Hilburn reported that Abraham has hired prominent fundraiser Allee Bautsh Grunewald. The next thing to watch, if he decides to run, is whether he's able to start filling his coffers, or whether big GOP donors sit on the sidelines until they know who else is interested.
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In addition to Landry and Kennedy, other rumored candidates include U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, and even U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, if Democrats take control of the House next year and Scalise no longer finds himself part of the majority's leadership. None of them have gone so far as Abraham now has, and it's not clear how much of the talk is coming from them and how much is wishful thinking from others. And with former U.S. Sen. David Vitter now off the scene, it's also unclear whether any major Republican has the power to tell some hopefuls to stand down and unite the party behind a single candidate.
The main uncertainty, though, is whether Edwards looks vulnerable as decision time approaches.
There's one school of thought that, as a Democrat in a conservative state, he was just a fluke winner last time against Vitter, whose old prostitution scandal came back to haunt him and who was weakened by just the sort of intraparty primary battle Republicans would hope to avoid. The other theory is that Edwards is well-liked and has proved awfully resilient so far, and has the poll numbers to prove it.
Voters won't have to hash all that out until 2019, and an awful lot can happen between now and then.
But Abraham's move has started the clock running.
Email Stephanie Grace at firstname.lastname@example.org.