Shawn Wilson Is In; Is The Louisiana Governor’s Race Field Set?

It could well be the case that the last major candidate in the Louisiana gubernatorial race has now stepped to the rail. From a press release…

Today, Shawn Wilson, the former Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) announced his campaign for Governor. Shawn transformed the agency to be more collaborative and efficient at leveraging resources and delivering services – resulting in groundbreakings on long overdue improvements to our roadways, railways, ports, and bridges. Under his leadership, Louisiana is currently making the largest infrastructure investment in state history. Major investments are underway in every corner of the state. This success and the approach he uses has best prepared him to lead the state for the next four years.

“In the simplest of terms, a bridge is a pathway over an obstacle. Louisiana has its fair share of obstacles standing between where we are today and the state that we can be tomorrow, and the only way we’ll get to the other side is if we have leaders who will build bridges; not burn them, ” said Shawn. “I’ve spent my career bringing people together to tackle tough issues for Louisiana. I’ve worked for four different governors for over 25 years. I know the challenges our state is facing, and I know what it’ll take to overcome them. Louisiana needs a Governor that’ll build bridges; not burn them. That’s the kind of leader I’ve been, and that’s exactly the kind of Governor I promise to be. My family and I look forward to hitting the campaign trail and earning every vote.”

And there’s a campaign video…

Wilson’s problem is that, contrary to the claim in the video, he didn’t build a single major bridge as Louisiana’s DOTD secretary. Try to think of a bridge project of any real size or import in this state which was planned, designed and completed within the nearly eight years he’s been in charge of the agency which does those things, and you’ll likely come up dry.

Even those flyover ramps from I-10 into the New Orleans airport’s new terminal, which was finished in 2019 and had been on the drawing board well before Wilson got the job running DOTD, still aren’t finished. They might be completed before the election.

Or they might not.

Either way, Wilson getting in will likely unite the clans on the Democrat side – especially now that Hillar Moore, who would have been the most plausible white Democrat in the race – has demurred. Wilson has John Bel Edwards’ backing, which means Edwards has been twisting arms among the status quo crowd to get checks for the candidate; you’ll likely see soon that Wilson will throw a fundraising event and report a staggering multi-million dollar haul from it and from that you’re supposed to believe it’s a testament to his high-powered talent as a mover and shaker.

When in fact they’ll simply be cashing in on pledges Edwards has shaken out of his people for weeks and months.

He’ll have three or four million dollars in the bank within a month or two.

And he has Gary Chambers’ public backing, which means he’s in a position to get virtually all of Louisiana’s black vote (that isn’t to say Chambers delivers the black vote; what we’re saying is that Chambers being on board means nobody will divide the black vote and hurt Wilson by doing so).

Of course, Jeff Landry opened the year with $5 million in his campaign account and another two and a half in a few PACs affiliated with his campaign. And that $7.5 million war chest is now close to $10 million after a fundraising blitzkreig in January and February.

This popped on Thursday…

Today, Jeff Landry announced that among the various committees that Jeff Landry is able to raise money for—Landry for Louisiana, the Victory Fund of the Louisiana Republican Party, and Cajun PAC II—he has raised nearly $2 million in 60 days.

“There is a lot at stake in this election,” said Jeff Landry. “With Louisiana’s continued support, we can finally get hold of crime, fix our education system, and bring jobs and talent back to our great state.”

It’s possible Wilson can put that kind of money together given enough time, but the problem is Landry is going to keep raising money. Usually the second quarter of an election year is when the real rubber hits the road, and Landry’s already got close to $10 million in the war chest. He’s on his way to raising $20-25 million, which is the kind of money Eddie Rispone only had because he was spending his own personal stash.

And Landry will soon head to Mar-A-Lago where he’s going to pick up Donald Trump’s endorsement.

All of which is to say that the price of poker in this race is now so high that it looks a lot like the field is set with Wilson’s entry.

Yes, Clay Schexnayder has said that if Garret Graves doesn’t enter the race that he’ll look at it. But Clay Schexnayder, who’s been a terrible House Speaker and is almost universally hated by Republicans who care about politics thanks to his having built his speakership by cutting a deal with Edwards and the Legislative Black Caucus to gather Democrat votes and a few Republicans – and then governing as a Democrat speaker of a Republican House more often than not – is no more poised to eat into Landry’s GOP support than is John Schroder, Sharon Hewitt or Richard Nelson. He’s literally wasting his time thinking about running, and he’ll be wasting the $660,000 in his campaign account if he makes the wrong decision and gets in.

And then there’s Hunter Lundy, an old Lake Charles Democrat who put up $1.6 million of his old money to run as a “conservative Christian” independent. We’d be shocked if that generated much of any support. Lundy’s chasing base Republican voters with a Democrat pedigree and an “I” next to his name? Read the room, for crying out loud.

We noticed something on Thursday, by the way, at the LABI annual meeting at which Landry, Schroder, Hewitt and Nelson spoke.

Namely, that of the three candidates attempting to knock off Landry as the Republican favorite, it might actually be Nelson who has the best presentation. He’s wrong on a few things, like for example the use of ITEP as an economic development driver and the participation of local governments in ITEP offerings, but his campaign message is credibly crafted and he can present himself as shiny and new and young. That might catch on, although Nelson only has about a quarter of a million dollars in the bank and that’s virtually a hopelessly small stack if he’s going to try to knock Landry off.

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Schroder’s big problem, from what we could tell and what several people we talked to after the four speakers were finished on Thursday seemed to confirm, is body language. The LABI event was the biggest forum to date for the 2023 gubernatorial race, and it should have been the medium to come off excited and engaged. But Schroder’s presentation was pretty similar to what he’s offered fairly consistently. It wasn’t just that it was flat; it almost came off like he was put upon to have to be there. He wasn’t excited, or more accurately he didn’t show it, and it felt like he was doing the audience a favor being there.

Surely that’s not how he felt – but in politics perception is reality.

We’ve been trying to figure out why Schroder has polled so poorly when his resume indicates he should be a fairly strong candidate, and our conclusion is that his base is the same set of conservative voters as Landry’s base is, and they just like Jeff better. But this might be why. Landry doesn’t blow you away like Bobby Jindal, firing off all the answers to every policy problem machine-gun style. He does, however, come off as relatable and like he wants the job he’s running for and for legitimate reasons, like he thinks he can make things better. There’s an earnestness about him.

And Schroder has trouble conveying that. The folks we talked to after the LABI event all mentioned something to that effect reviewing his performance, and almost everybody we talked to was turned off by it. He’s got to fix that if he’s going to make headway.

Hewitt has much the same problem. It’s not that she isn’t earnest, it’s that she isn’t a dynamic speaker; she’s a bit stiff, she’s monotone, and her stump speech hasn’t changed in eight years. Hewitt talks about how she came up as an engineer and an executive at Shell, and how she moved up as a woman in a man’s world, and the speech is the whole Girlboss thing.

But here’s what’s wrong with that: it’s 2023, and we have no shortage of female politicians. What we have a shortage of is female politicians who aren’t absolutely awful. Here in Louisiana, the two biggest cities in the state are run by women – and LaToya Cantrell is in the process of being recalled and thrown out of office, while Sharon Weston Broome is only slightly less disastrous.

And the more Girlboss stuff Hewitt puts out there, the more she’s going to remind people of Kathleen Blanco, who was also a disaster. Louisiana can’t afford a low-energy Kathleen Blanco after eight years of John Bel Edwards.

This isn’t a shot at either Schroder or Hewitt. Put either one into the office and of course they’d be an improvement over what’s there now. It’s just a recognition that if the frontrunner has $10 million and you have $2.4 million (in Schroder’s case) or $600,000 (like Hewitt has), you’re starting from a position where you can’t catch up to Landry unless he either stumbles or you bring something dynamic and interesting to the table.

Which so far neither has.

Graves is the only potential candidate left who could impact the race, and frankly if he was going to get in he should have done it before the LABI annual meeting. The field might not be set, but it’s beginning to look like it is.

Louisiana’s history of gubernatorial races is that someone usually comes out of nowhere – a Nelson, for example – and knocks off the frontrunner. That could still happen, you never can discount the possibility based on a long train of experience.

But this looks like a Landry-Wilson runoff, and it looks like a 1995 Mike Foster-Cleo Fields scenario.

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