SADOW: LAGOV Race Action Ripples To Lower Statewide Offices

The flurry of activity surrounding Louisiana’s governor’s race has had an impact on other constitutional statewide offices up for grabs later in the year as well.

Long thought to seek the state’s top job, instead Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser opted to vie for reelection. That may not be a slam dunk, for GOP former Rep. John Fleming months ago declared his candidacy, after having said he would wait on Nungesser, who dithered until about a week ago, to decide.

While that may imply Fleming could abandon the effort, having gone a few months into it he well might keep going. He would pose a real challenge to Nungesser, who has alienated a good portion of state Republican activists over sniping with them about endorsements for Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry for governor as well as differences over key issues. Those disgruntled with Nungesser would give Fleming a long look, who has an impeccable conservatism record although the position largely is nonideological and who is flush enough to finance his own campaign.

Whether Fleming remains in the race, Nungesser’s presence almost certainly dooms the chances of Republicans House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Sen. Pres. Page Cortez, both term limited, roaming the Capitol for extensions to their political careers, and supposedly interested in the state’s second spot. Nungesser’s name recognition and money leave little room for them, with Fleming only aggravating this.

With Landry all in for the top job, his job has attracted three candidates, one of his chief lieutenants Solicitor General Liz Murrill, a Republican, GOP state Rep. John Stefanski, and no party Third District Attorney John Belton, running without a party label. The dynamics of this could become interesting if a quality Democrat doesn’t enter.

As a Landry ally, Murrill picks up much of the same support that has made him the front runner in his contest. She also has particular appeal to voters repelled by heavy-handed government attempts to restrict behavior during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, especially with her personal story of how vaccination appeared to cause life-threatening problems for her son.

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The anybody-but-Landry Republicans would seem to have a natural home with Stefanski, except that’s not exactly working out. For example, establishment Republicans in Bossier Parish, who are upset with Landry because of his efforts to remove under dual officeholding statute their ally Robert Berry from the board governing the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and water Conservation District, appear to be backing Bolton.

If this leakage occurs elsewhere – Bolton likely picks up the vast majority of Democrats – this would ace Stefanski out of the runoff and guarantee Murrill the victory. And if a quality Democrat does enter, that candidate poaches much of Belton’s vote and would produce the same result of pushing Stefanski into third place in the general election, if that siphoning happens.

GOP Treas. John Schroder’s entry into the governor’s contest also leaves that spot open. Republican state Rep. Scott McKnight jumped in for that months ago more recently joined by Democrat Dustin Granger, who last year initially tried for then abandoned an attempt for Congress. McKnight has the wherewithal to fund a good chunk of his campaign and his conservative record in two House terms not only may deter others from getting it but also would make him an easy winner in this two-up match.

As for the other three statewide offices, gubernatorial politics seems to have bypassed. Neither Republican Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin nor GOP Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain appear to have quality challengers on the horizon, but Republican Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon faces a rematch from last election when he narrowly defeated the GOP’s Tim Temple. The incumbent’s fortunes may have received a boost when Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards heeded his call for a special session dealing with insurance matters starting next week.

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