Kennedy Cometh

We’ve been expecting John Kennedy to announce he’s running for governor for weeks now, and he’s finally given a timetable. It’s happening next month.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy says he’ll announce whether he’s entering the Louisiana governor’s race before Dec. 1, ending persistent speculation about his 2019 election intentions.

The Republican senator released the timetable Tuesday. If he runs, Kennedy will be the second GOP contender to challenge Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards, who is seeking a second term as governor.

Kennedy would be a formidable candidate, maintaining high approval ratings with voters.

Kennedy appeared to lean toward running in his statement. He said he loves his Senate job, but finds it “hard to stomach what is happening in Louisiana right now.”

Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone filed paperwork declaring his candidacy for the gubernatorial election two weeks ago. The Republican said he’s willing to spend $5 million of his own money to campaign.

Rispone’s campaign announcement might be playing into this a little. Kennedy’s camp has been pretty dismissive of the ISC Constructors CEO’s chances of winning, and we’ve heard somewhat mixed reviews about Rispone’s initial meetings with stakeholders here and there – which is to be expected of somebody who’s never run for anything before – but one thing which is for sure is there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the construction industry behind Rispone’s candidacy.

And when you consider what a huge source of Republican campaign money the construction industry has been over the years, it’s not a great idea for John Kennedy to sit still and have Rispone out there making those calls to longtime friends without anybody challenging his claims to their money and allegiance. These are the guys who staked Bobby Jindal and David Vitter to their massive war chests; Kennedy needs to get at that pot of money as well.

So getting in next month allows Kennedy to make the calls to Rispone’s donors congratulating them for their interest in the 2019 governor’s race, agreeing with them that (1) John Bel Edwards simply can’t be re-elected for four more years destroying Louisiana’s economy and paying off the good old boy special interests and (2) Louisiana needs major changes from politics as usual – and then dropping the hammer by saying that “Eddie just can’t win.” And then offering them the opportunity to also write a check to their U.S. Senator who’s coming back from Washington to fix the problems.

However sincere or insincere that pitch may be, it’s going to have some velocity on it. And Rispone, who had to be hoping he’d have some time to quietly muster support and make some allies among the Republicans who’d really rather have Kennedy stay in the Senate, is now going to ramp things up very quickly. That’s inconvenient for him, because his political consultant Blake Harris will be tied up until Nov. 6 as he works on the Bill Lee gubernatorial race in Tennessee; one gets the impression without Harris steering the ship Rispone’s campaign isn’t really going to take shape.

Kennedy getting in will also steal the oxygen out of other potential candidates like state senator Sharon Hewitt or congressman Ralph Abraham, both of whom might end up looking into a different statewide race next year. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser is sitting at only a 37 percent re-elect number, with less than 50 percent of Republican voters favoring his re-election, as of last month’s Hayride/Remington Research poll. Nungesser is ripe for a conservative challenger, and he might end up the target of one or more erstwhile gubernatorial candidates squeezed out by Kennedy’s name recognition and popularity and Rispone’s $5 million self-funded war chest.

It’s still too early to know how this race will stack up. But the fact Kennedy is going to lift the veil on Louisiana’s worst-kept secret and announce for governor in November will bring about much more clarity, earlier in the race, than anyone thought.

And for Kennedy to have essentially an entire year to lean on Edwards’ sub-50 percent approval rating and 42 percent re-elect number with a never-ending string of sound bites and quintessential Kennedy trolling will make for a very difficult road ahead for the incumbent.

The statewide election cycle of 2019 is about to begin. God bless us all.

UPDATE: Kennedy’s statement also included a link to a SurveyUSA poll just completed with a set of numbers making it impossible to see any result other than he’s running.

Specifically, Kennedy beats Edwards 48-39 in a head-to-head, which has him considerably stronger than Rispone (33-47), Abraham (37-45) or attorney general Jeff Landry (39-44). You don’t put out a poll like that if you’re not going to run.

Kennedy’s poll is fascinating, as it’s pretty comprehensive and has lots of interesting nuggets of information in it.

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