BRkennedyclass102018_5

U.S. Senator John Kennedy spoke to an American Government class at Denham Springs High Friday October 19, 2018. Kennedy talked about the federal budget, Kavanaugh hearings, Puerto Rico hurricane recovery, the Middle East and other topics.

So what was that, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s months-long flirtation with a gubernatorial run not even halfway into his first U.S. Senate term, other than a great big tease?

For one thing, it was a nice gift to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who now doesn’t have a well-known Republican opponent on the horizon.

And it was a lump of coal for Kennedy’s fellow Republicans, particularly the ones who believe that Edwards’ decisive 2015 win in a reliably Republican state was a fluke. With U.S. Rep .Steve Scalise, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Attorney General Jeff Landry and pretty much every other major Republican figure already having already said that they won’t challenge the governor next fall, the party really doesn’t have a Plan B.

Sure, Eddie Rispone, a wealthy businessman, has declared his candidacy, and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham is still out there. But both start way behind where Kennedy, a longtime statewide official with a big fundraising base and even bigger public profile, would have begun. While a Kennedy/Edwards race would have been a battle of equals, anyone left to challenge Edwards now faces the tough task of establishing the stature to take down a sitting governor.

Even more, though, I think it’s a recognition of reality, both Edwards’ and Kennedy’s.

The state’s general party preferences notwithstanding, Edwards enters election season on impressive footing, with decent approval ratings despite having raised taxes – with the GOP-majority Legislature’s grudging help – to dig the state out of the deep hole that Bobby Jindal left him.

He hasn’t done nearly everything he’d hoped, but he’s got a list of accomplishments, from expanding Medicaid and passing a prison reform package to welcoming some big new economic development projects. He’s drawn high marks for steady handling of various natural disasters, established a good working relationship with President Donald Trump, and as my colleague Mark Ballard reported last week, has won Republican as well as Democratic fans.

Edwards may have surprised everyone last time, when the under-radar state representative slayed Kennedy Senate predecessor and the state’s most powerful Republican, David Vitter. But unless a governor really screws things up, the job makes any candidate instantly formidable.

Kennedy might have been formidable too, but I have my doubts.

Yes, he’s quick with a quip, a quality that has made him a star in stodgy Washington. But that can get old quickly, particularly when people’s real concerns, whether they be health care or TOPS scholarships, are at stake. Also, it surely would have rubbed some voters the wrong way that, just two years after asking them to send him to the Senate – a goal he twice sought before, dating back to 2004 – Kennedy would be so ready to walk away.

Frankly, I never really bought that he was ready to walk, that he was willing to give up the easy Washington spotlight to get down into the trenches in Baton Rouge. I also never quite believed that things were likely to go his way if he had tried — that he, unlike Vitter, could have been the slayer this time.

Perhaps that's what this was actually all about. He'd likely never say so in public, after all this time hogging the will-he-or-won't-he spotlight, but could it be that Kennedy himself had the same doubts?

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.