You sometimes wonder if Louisiana – or in particular, Republicans in Louisiana – is simply cursed never to unite behind a candidate for governor.
That has happened three times in this century, and in all three the party galvanized around Bobby Jindal. It didn’t work in 2003, as Jindal lost by a thin margin to Kathleen Blanco after leading the race for most of the runoff – he did a poor job fending off her late attack ads and Louisiana paid the price for the resulting loss when Hurricane Katrina struck two years later and Blanco’s awful leadership made us a national charity case.
But in 2007, with Republicans fully behind Jindal, there wasn’t much opposition. John Georges, Foster Campbell and Walter Boasso, self-funders all (though Campbell did have some Democrat donors behind him), combined for less than half the vote and Jindal waltzed into office with a primary contest victory. And the best the opposition could do when he ran for re-election in 2011 was a middle school teacher from Haynesville with less than $10,000 to spend on the race.
In 2015 and 2019, though, we’ve had multiple Republican candidates facing a single Democrat, and despite rather wholesale warnings from observers inside the GOP that brutal intraparty battles inside the Republican tent in the middle of a jungle primary is a recipe for disaster, disaster is what we got. John Bel Edwards, an unknown state representative with a far-left voting record even worse than any member of the Legislative Black Caucus, ran largely untouched into the runoff in 2015 while David Vitter, Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne butchered each other and then Edwards easily defeated a battered and bleeding Vitter in the runoff.
And in 2019, Eddie Rispone had to go negative on Ralph Abraham to get into the runoff with Edwards, and he never did the work to repair the resulting damage. Abraham’s vote went soft for Rispone, and he lost by 40,000 votes to Edwards in an almost unlosable race in a red state.
It’s not a surprise as a result that Abraham and Rispone got together two weeks ago to call upon the GOP to support only one candidate for governor, and that came in advance of a vote of the Republican State Central Committee to endorse Jeff Landry for 2023.
With the RSCC endorsement it would appear that the other semi-announced candidates for governor, specifically Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser and state Treasurer John Schroder, would have a serious disadvantage in the event they’d carry on with running. Ultimately the RSCC’s move would potentially solve the problem of multiple Republican candidates in the 2023 race when it’s highly likely the Democrats will only run one – at this point, that likely being Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson.
And then came this announcement…
“I’ve spent my life and career serving the people of Louisiana. Becky and I raised our family here and are so proud to call it home. But we can’t deny that our great state is facing serious challenges. To meet those challenges, Louisiana families deserve a governor who can lead our state and help solve our toughest problems.
“Over the last year, Louisianians have asked me time and time again to come home to serve as governor during these difficult times. Becky and I love the people of Louisiana. We’ve always listened to them, so I am giving serious consideration to entering the governor’s race. I’ll be announcing my decision soon.”
That comes courtesy of none other than John Kennedy, Louisiana’s junior senator who was just re-elected with a whopping 62 percent of the vote over three hapless Democrats.
Kennedy’s press release also included a poll with every Republican candidate in sight…
And either coincidentally or in response to Kennedy’s release, the LAGOP put out the official statement endorsing Landry…
There are, as we understand it, more than 125 RSCC members who back the Landry endorsement; it’s more like 150.
Does that matter? Probably not.
What do we make of this?
Well, a majority of the Republican State Central Committee, which is a body of 230 members elected by their fellow Republicans – think of them as an analogy for the state legislature within the LAGOP – knew perfectly well the possibility of Kennedy getting in was extant, and they still chose to back Landry in an effort to foreclose it.
And while that poll, which also had Kennedy beating Wilson in a prospective runoff by a 56-32 margin, has Kennedy with a decent lead over all of the other Republicans, it’s not really what we’d call overwhelming support that he’s only at 21.7 percent.
We’ll state at the outset that we don’t oppose the idea of Kennedy as Louisiana’s governor. Kennedy would almost certainly have won had he run in 2015 or 2019, and especially in 2019 he needed to run. You could make a very good argument that Kennedy hosed the Republican Party when he spent most of 2018 musing about running for governor and in so doing clearing the field, and then at the last minute bailing out of the race and leaving Republicans with Rispone and Abraham, two fairly flawed candidates, against an incumbent Democrat who deserved a thrashing but was sitting on a giant pot of money.
So if Kennedy should become governor, our reaction would be “better late than never, we guess.”
But is that really true?
Given the RSCC endorsement and the rather pedestrian poll numbers, what we see is a whole lot of Republican and conservative voters scratching their heads over the idea that Kennedy would run for governor so soon after being re-elected to the Senate.
In most states – hell, in every state other than Louisiana – senators do not run for governor. It’s practically unheard of. And when Vitter did it, the voters didn’t reward him for it at all. That was a major negative in his campaign, in fact.
And Vitter ran for governor five years into his second term. He at least had the argument that he was only going to be in the Senate for two terms and then coming home, so running for governor was part of a plan to serve the state as best he could.
Kennedy just won re-election last week. He boasted of the fact that he raised $40 million in his re-election campaign – on the promise he would represent Louisiana in the U.S. Senate for another six years, and six days later he’s now talking about leaving the Senate a year into that six-year term to be governor?
Meaning most of the next year he’d be AWOL in the Senate because he’s down in Louisiana campaigning?
Kennedy is on the Judiciary Committee. He’s going to skip the hearings when Joe Biden’s communist federal-judge nominees are coming through, when Kennedy has been one of the most effective critics of those judges? On more than one occasion the nominees have failed at least partly due to his evisceration of them.
So we’re going to lose that because he wants to run for governor? When the governing body of the state GOP has already said they like the guy who’s in the race?
We talked last week about how selfish politicians are killing the GOP. As much as we like Kennedy and have praised him, we’d be remiss not to point out that this meets the definition of selfish.
If he’s going run, OK, but this isn’t the model. When you’ve got a jungle primary and a scant five week break between the primary and the general, you have to be strategic about who’s running and who isn’t. Kennedy and Landry throwing haymakers at each other for months and months leading up to that, with the prospect of an attendant rift between warring camps just like we endured with Jindal and Vitter, is an unacceptably stupid result that the RSCC is begging to avoid.
But apparently, they can beg all they want and they’ll get nothing.
And they’ll get nothing when they also beg for a reformed system including party primaries, through which none of this would then be much of a problem and all comers would be welcome.
Wilson is less plausible than Edwards on the Democrat side, so maybe this won’t be fatal to getting the conservative Republican reform governor this state so desperately needs. But only an idiot wouldn’t look at this and conclude it’s a good idea to take chances.
But hey – whatever floats your boat, y’all. Ego is gonna do what ego is gonna do, and we peons will just accept our gruel with a smile and a hearty “Geaux Tigers!”