SADOW: Louisiana’s Dems Have To Pick A Candidate For Governor In 2023

On the heels of a somewhat-flawed media report about next year’s Louisiana governor’s race, it’s helpful to see where things stand less than a year from qualification.

Earlier this week, the Louisiana Radio Network reported that the 2023 contest to succeed the term-limited Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards was “unusually muddy.” Drawing largely on statements made by University of Louisiana at Monroe political scientist Joshua Stockley, the story described entry by Republicans Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, and Treas. John Schroder as contingent on U.S. Senate outcomes in this fall’s elections, principally whether Louisiana GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, the latter running for reelection this fall, will become part of the body’s majority.

LRN should have checked their clips; Schroder told supporters months ago he was in, which triggered eventually the announced entrance of Republican state Rep. Scott McKnight to replace him. That doesn’t mean he will stay in, saying he would make a formal announcement later in the year and perhaps something he will reconsider if polling results continue to be discouraging, but desisting seems unlikely.

The broader thesis that midterm election results will drive a decision from Cassidy and/or Kennedy to enter the contest also doesn’t quite hold up. That certainly is not the case for Kennedy, who right after campaigning for reelection and would have to be caught with a live boy or dead girl to lose would have to launch immediately into another campaign with all his campaign dollars tied up unable for use in a gubernatorial campaign (although there are cumbersome and inefficient ways around that).

Kennedy in the past often expressed a desire to serve as the state’s chief top executive. But now at age 71 and, despite his relatively short term in the Senate, one of the most sought-after senators by the media, giving that up to run for governor and potentially having to run twice before his new Senate term would expire doesn’t seem in the cards. Regardless of what happens nationwide in November, the bet here is he’s staying put.

Cassidy’s future might be a bit more contingent, but perhaps invariant, on electoral outcomes. Having burned a lot of bridges to the state’s conservative base, he will face a tough reelection battle in 2026 – and an uphill one at that if the Legislature changes federal elections to closed primaries after 2023. If Schroder or Landry win election, that’s likely, so as a defensive measure he may wish to run for governor. With his political career at stake, whether he has something like a Senate subcommittee chairmanship may make little difference in his decision to bolt.

As for Landry, he’s all but in, already running a ton of generic social media ads that wouldn’t likely be out so early if he were running only for reelection. No party Third District Attorney John Belton, who said he’d run if Landry didn’t seek reelection, recently announced for his office, but if Landry stayed he almost certainly would defeat him, so no need for early campaigning. He’s as certain to run for governor as Kennedy isn’t. Landry’s Solicitor General Liz Murrill is widely seen to be running to replace him as well.

Nungesser, by contrast, has some pondering to do. With the nontrivial chance that Cassidy could jump in, that would poach the centrist vote Nungesser has tried to cultivate. Worse, if Nungesser defers he needs to decide soon, since both term-limited legislative chamber leaders Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Pres. Page Cortez are rumored to seek his job so he needs to choose whether to try to hang onto what he has or to roll the dice on the governor’s race.

And the article completely missed the intrigue surrounding Cassidy, Nungesser, and Democrats, insofar as whether Democrats think it best to try to coopt one of that pair to prevent a more conservative Landry or Schroder from winning or to run a placeholder to keep the party from becoming even less relevant in state politics. If nothing more than to keep up party strength at the local level, a major party must try vigorously to contest with one of its own the state’s highest post, but at the same time this cycle that candidate is poised to do poorly which may act even more detrimentally for party maintenance.

An available candidate that would seem to do the least poorly, and could tip the decision in favor of backing someone seriously, is term-limited Democrat state Sen. Gary Smith. He has ties to the white minority leadership of the party and the almost exclusively white wealthier donors.

Yet this would become a nightmare if a quality black outsider candidate, one not part of the party’s power structure in office who would observe a gentlemen’s agreement to stand aside to support a white candidate, ran seriously. The likes of former congressional and current Senate candidate Gary Chambers finishing second against Kennedy and then extending that campaign into a gubernatorial run may compel a Smith-like candidacy backed by the state party to distract from a black, woke extremist becoming the face of the party – but at risk of their candidate finishing with few votes that would devalue that party in the minds of the state’s majority even more and in the process perhaps missing a chance to keep Landry or Schroder out of the Governor’s Mansion by backing a Cassidy or Nungesser.

That’s perhaps the biggest storyline of all – will state Democrats acquiesce to further diminution by backing a more moderate Republican, or, in an effort to maintain their diminished relevance, gamble on propping up the brand at risk of it blowing up to push them even further towards irrelevance?

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