If you’re thinking about running for governor, don’t lose sight of the larger timeline because it’s slowly slipping away.
Using the 2015 governor’s race as a guide, candidates should start surfacing in earnest soon. Back in December 2013, roughly two years before the last gubernatorial runoff, the contenders were already making quite a bit of noise.
For example, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne had by that time launched his campaign website, and former U.S. Sen. David Vitter was preparing to send an email to supporters hinting at an official announcement. Gov. John Bel Edwards, for his part, was attending one fundraiser after another.
In contrast, little action is happening today, roughly two years before the next gubernatorial runoff. But there is a lot of talk.
“Last time, it was an open seat. That’s one of the reasons,” said political consultant Roy Fletcher, who helped former Gov. Mike Foster get elected. He is not currently affiliated with any campaigns for governor. "The risk-reward equation is coming into tune here. The question is, ‘How big of a risk is it to run if I can’t beat him?’ The lack of activity is a reflection of the governor’s poll numbers.”
At the least, Fletcher said major contenders need to have themselves “plugged in and functioning at a high level” by summer. “But it’s a case-by-case situation on when someone should announce,” he added. “You don’t have to run early if you’re (U.S. Sen.) John Kennedy, who already has money and statewide recognition. Kennedy just has a quicker fuse than some.”
Consultant Lionel Rainey, who has worked for Kennedy, Treasurer John Schroder and Secretary of State Tom Schedler, shared some of the same sentiments. “Still, you can't wait too long,” said Rainey, who is not affiliated with a gubernatorial campaign. “You wouldn't want another candidate to begin to build too much momentum and financial support.”
What about the candidates who aren’t well known and don’t have money?
“If that’s where you’re starting,” Rainey said, “then you should probably begin no later than January of 2018, if not sooner. But it's really a double-edged sword. The sooner you announce equates to the longer you’re exposed to attacks and the more money that you have to spend.”
Here’s an updated snapshot on the possible challengers:
Congressman Ralph Abraham: This sounds like the real deal. Abraham, a Republican from Alto, outside Monroe, has already secured a fundraising director, and his team is actively interviewing potential consultants. There are also already signs that Abraham isn’t marching to the usual beat, like waiting to see who else might jump in. That could make him an early wild card. But his most important balancing act will be announcing a bid for governor while, presumably, running for re-election to his House seat.
Attorney General Jeff Landry: At times it seems like the media do more to make Landry a candidate than he does. Nonetheless, Landry won the day on Twitter last week when he wrote, “Ralph Abraham would make a great governor; sure we could count on his pro-life record!” For those reading between the lines, it may have been a shot at Kennedy, who got crossways with Landry recently over a judicial appointment.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt: Over the past year Hewitt, R-Slidell, has been on the road campaigning as the only active candidate, aside from Gov. Edwards. Recently, however, she has been telling supporters that she’s keeping her options open, and speculation is growing that Hewitt may be more interested in running for Senate president. For now, she stays on the list.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy: Even those close to the junior senator have no idea what he is doing. But for as long as Kennedy has been in elected life, waiting until the last moment to pounce has been his style. It’s doubtful that the 2019 race for governor will be an exception. Some of the chatter surrounding Kennedy involves who he would appoint as senator, should he run for governor and win. Several names have been whispered at cocktail parties, with smart politicos noting that Kennedy can make that promise to multiple people.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain: I checked in with his office last month. Strain has no intentions of running for governor.
The working list of potential challengers likewise includes Congressman Garret Graves, state Rep. Lance Harris, state Sen. Bret Allain and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack.
But what is missing from the list is a strong Democrat to oppose Edwards, which is understandable. The Democratic Party is 100 percent behind the incumbent.
That’s more than what can be said for Republicans. The one thing many conservatives don’t want to see is a packed field of their own trying to pick off not only an incumbent Democrat, but also each other.
Edwards, on the other hand, would probably be just fine with that.
-- Jeremy Alford is publisher and editor of LaPolitics.com and LaPolitics Weekly. You can reach him by email at JJA@LaPolitics.com or 225-772-2518.