BATON ROUGE, La. — Nearly two years before Louisiana’s next election for governor, possible Republican contenders already are sizing up the race, hoping they can keep Democrat John Bel Edwards from a second term.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, a popular statewide official only a year into his current position, said he’s considering a bid to be governor, but has no timetable for making the call. U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who represents a northeast-based district, is openly studying a gubernatorial campaign, traveling to the state capitol last week to talk with possible supporters.
“I’m thinking about it,” Kennedy said in an interview. “I will run if it feels right to me, if it’s something I want to do and if I can really affect some changes to make Louisiana a better place to live and raise a family, not all in that order.”
Like most other potential candidates, Abraham said people “from all over the state” are encouraging him to step into the competition. He expects to make a decision by mid-year.
“I haven’t asked for any specific support yet from anybody. We are in the gathering of information mode,” Abraham said during his Baton Rouge visit.
The list doesn’t stop there.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt and Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, also are considered possible contenders in what could become a crowded competition. U.S. Rep. Garret Graves is mentioned as well, though the congressman from Baton Rouge has said that’s “not on our radar.”
Some Republicans hope U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise will consider leaving his job as the House’s third-ranking Republican to come home to the governor’s seat.
When asked, Scalise laughed and replied: “No, it’s not something that I’m interested in right now.” But when pressed, he didn’t entirely close the door.
“I decided years ago that I would not speculate about what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said the congressman, who continues to recover from last June’s shooting at a baseball practice.
Edwards will be a formidable opponent in the October 2019 election. After two years in office, the governor’s approval numbers remain high with voters. He’s expected to have at least $5 million in his campaign account when he files the latest figures next month.
The governor hasn’t talked directly about possible challengers he’ll face. But he touts his performance, citing Louisiana’s shrinking unemployment rate, increased enrollment in the Medicaid expansion and avoidance of a midyear deficit for the first time in years.
Asked recently about a recent round of strong poll numbers, Edwards responded: “It kind of reaffirms that the people of Louisiana appreciate the moderate, balanced approach we’ve taken to solving the challenges here.”
Edwards, however, is also the only Democratic governor in the Deep South and in a state where every other statewide elected official is Republican, making him a target for the GOP nationally. He’s struggled to work with the majority-Republican state House, and that partisan divide has caused Louisiana’s budget problems to linger, creating continued financial uncertainty.
Abraham said people who have reached out to him are “tired of the bitterness.”
“We’ve got to get better. If it takes someone like me, then so be it,” he said.
Hewitt said she would bring her “problem-solving” engineering background if she decides to run and a long-term vision she said she hasn’t seen from Edwards.
Whether Republicans can cull the list of potential contenders to unite behind a main challenger remains uncertain — and that could help Edwards.
Kennedy said he’s “really busy in Washington” and who’s in the race won’t factor into his decision-making.
“If I decide to run, I’ll run. I don’t care who else is in the race,” Kennedy said, noting his Senate election had two dozen candidates. “Folks say I need to decide early. Well, no, I don’t.”
Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte