Trickle-down impacts from statewide contest choices continue to ripple through Louisiana campaigns, but finally the fields seem to be settling down.
When Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser announced a reelection bid rather than a run for governor, this upset plans of a pair of potential successors. One, GOP former Rep. John Fleming, switched his attention to the treasurer post being vacated by Republican John Schroder as he set his sights on becoming governor.
Fleming announced formally this week, bringing his congressional experience, background working in the GOP Pres. Donald Trump Administration, and private sector business achievements to the table. In the last he has been highly successful and as a result can bring a lot of resources to bear in a campaign, and it shows on his 2022 campaign financial disclosure where he raised about $100,000 and then threw in over $200,000 of his own loaned money.
And those resources include name recognition from his time in public service. An internal statewide poll shows his name and party affiliation only draws nearly 30 percent of the sample’s vote and adding a biographical sketch to the polling pushes that to over 40 percent, contrasted with Republican state Rep. Scott McKnight ‘s single digits.
That will make it difficult for McKnight, a two-term legislator and executive in an insurance firm, to catch up. His campaign account has about the same as does Fleming’s although all from donations, but it will take a lot more for him to acquire equivalent name recognition and Fleming will have plenty more to counter that.
The internal poll also showed an unnamed Democrat pulling around 30 percent of the vote. That was before Democrat financial planner Dustin Granger formally announced his entry last week although he had indicated he would run weeks earlier. Although he ran for a state Senate special election and lost convincingly and then abandoned a run for Congress last year, he has little in the bank and nothing more than left-wing bromides to offer. (He holds himself as an innovative planner although his 2021 candidate disclosure reveals personal investments in go-go Amazon, a fund of water companies, gold, and cryptocurrency.)
Still, if the only Democrat and if willing to make at least a token effort, Granger will pull 30 percent of the vote reflexively from the leftist portion of the electorate, and if McKnight can gain some traction a runoff would be forced, even if Fleming is the likely frontrunner. Whichever Republican gains that spot then succeeds Schroder.
The Nungesser stay also affected another politician searching for another full-time job in elective politics, GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder. He had wanted to run for Nungesser’s spot, but deferred upon Nungesser’s choice. Now he appears to be mulling a gubernatorial run angling for moderate Republican voters to whom Nungesser might have appealed or Republican Rep. Garret Graves as well, who recently announced a deferral.
Third-choice Schexnayder could appeal to individuals wary of the unabashed social conservatism of gubernatorial frontrunner GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, as well as the more muted versions of Schroder and Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt (GOP state Rep. Richard Nelson, by contrast, articulates a more libertarian view on these issues), especially as Schexnayder has shown considerable sympathy for get-along-go-along rent-seeking governance at the Capitol. But he has burned quite a few bridges with conservatives wanting to leverage a large partisan majority into conservative social policy and to right-size state government and has been too cozy with big government Democrats who propelled him to the speakership.
And now he has another problem in that interest group leader Stephen Waguespack, who previously served as a senior official in the GOP former Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration, is making noises about entering the fray. While a conservative, he seems to be attracting attention from the same anybody-but-Landry forces that would back a Schexnayder bid.
Neither would have much of a chance. The formal entrance of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards former cabinet member Shawn Wilson cuts into especially Schexnayder’s possible support and they would have to jockey with the other GOP hopefuls to consolidate non-liberals disgruntled with Landry’s candidacy. Plus, the price of playing poker is extraordinarily high as Landry’s campaign surges towards eight figures in donations, where Schexnayder’s over $600,000 and Waguespack starting at zero this late will make little impact.
Schexnayder and/or Waguespack should be the last ones on the train, if they do jump on. But they would compete not so much against Landry as against all others, where a further fragmenting of the field only increases the chances of a Landry-Wilson runoff.