When John Bel Edwards takes the oath of office as Louisiana’s governor today, he will do so aware of the unpleasant reality that he will face significant opposition for re-election in 2019. And history is not on his side.
This might come as a surprise to many when considering the Pelican State’s relatively late embrace of the GOP compared to the rest of the south, but Louisiana voters have not re-elected a sitting Democratic governor since 1975, when Edwin Edwards handily defeated State Senator Bob Jones, the son of former governor and stalwart anti-Long politician Sam Jones, and the longtime secretary of state Wade O. Martin.
After EWE’s big win on the eve of the Disco Era, Democratic governors have rolled snake eyes, when they bothered to throw the dice at all.
Edwards aborted his fourth gubernatorial bid hours after running second in the 1987 primary. Buddy Roemer switched parties (and lost). Edwards declared for re-election and then thought better of it in 1995. And Kathleen Blanco saw her administration and political career engulfed by Hurricane Katrina, forgoing a rematch in 2007 with the man she beat in 2003.
John Bel Edwards, who sold the voters on his military career and amplified instances of conservative decisions made in his personal life, has since winning tacked to the left of center- trying push a Republican House majority to elect a Democratic speaker (which at press time may or may not have been too tough an ask), declaring support for the LGBT agenda and endorsing the expansion of Medicaid.
Though nobody has announced against Edwards, you can bet that there are Republicans eying a run for the Fourth Floor in 2019 as Edwards the governor begins to assume a more Democratic identity than Edwards the gubernatorial candidate did.
John Kennedy: The treasurer is arguably the most popular statewide politician in Louisiana, winning re-election with 80%. Kennedy, who is well versed in criticizing sitting governors in the press (just ask Bobby Jindal), also has $2.8 million on hand, a serious leg up on any potential GOP gubernatorial rival. Kennedy is mulling a bid for the US Senate seat that Vitter is vacating, though he could pursue that route this November without giving up his treasurer’s post. However a loss in that race would undermine his strength as a candidate for governor in 2019.
Scott Angelle: The Cajun Republican sent out Christmas cards to conservative activists across the state this December, you would think for reasons beyond celebrating the birth of the Savior. Like Kennedy, Angelle is rumored to be exploring a US Senate bid. The Public Service Commissioner for the Acadiana-Capital area has a few other options, including another run for governor in 2019 and a bid for Charles Boustany’s Lafayette-Lake Charles congressional seat this year.
Jeff Landry: The New Iberia attorney is the resident giant slayer in Louisiana politics, having defeated ex-House speaker Hunt Downer for a congressional seat in 2010 and thrown out a sitting attorney general in November. Perhaps the most impressive statistic from the AG runoff was Landry’s 47% in Orleans Parish, an impressive feat for an avowed TEA Party champion. Landry is the most dynamic Republican in the state now that Vitter is exiting the stage and will be moving into an office that could provide him a nest to legally snipe at the Edwards agenda.
Billy Nungesser: The former Plaquemines Parish president won the lieutenant governor post on his second try, almost unseating incumbent Jay Dardenne four years prior. Though he won the runoff comfortably against Baton Rouge mayor Kip Holden, Nungesser was locked in a dog fight in the primary against fellow Republican John Young, then-parish president of Jefferson. While Nungesser’s margin over Young was just over 11,000 votes in an election where 1,000,000 ballots were cast, it was a hard fought win achieved by strong showings in the Cajun region, the Republican citadel of St. Tammany, and peeling off blue collar votes from Young’s home parish of Jefferson.
Lieutenant governor has not been the best springboard to the governor’s mansion over the years, with Blanco being the first directly promoted by the voters in almost a century. Yet the consummate salesman Nungesser will make the most of his time in his new office energetically promoting the state.
Mike Strain: The state agriculture commissioner earned his office driving out Bob Odom, one of the most entrenched Democratic politicians in the state. The veterinarian eyed a run for governor in 2015 before bowing out. Strain’s candidacy would have rural appeal though a run for governor is unlikely short of the ag commissioner emerging as the consensus GOP challenger to Edwards.