NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After months of Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA., being candid about his interest in running for the top job in Louisiana government, he announced Monday (Dec. 3) that he would not challenge democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election bid. Now, political observers say that leaves the GOP without a well-known candidate -- at least for now.
Kennedy’s full statement reads:
“Last month, three of my Senate colleagues, two of my House colleagues, and I met in Beijing with Premier Li Keqiang, the second ranking Chinese government official, and others to discuss several issues. The State Department asked us in particular to lobby China to stop Chinese citizens from exporting synthetic fentanyl and the ingredients to make it to Mexico, from which fentanyl enters the United States. We hammered hard. This weekend, President Xi Jinping, meeting with President Trump, announced that China would designate fentanyl a “controlled substance” subject to the maximum penalty under Chinese law. Fentanyl killed more Americans last year than we lost during the entirety of the Vietnam War. Much of it came to the United States from China. The credit for this breakthrough goes to Presidents Trump and Xi, but it sure made me feel like our trip to Beijing was worthwhile.
I love being in the United States Senate. I will not be a candidate for Governor in 2019. I will, however, continue to work hard every day in D.C. and Louisiana for jobs, economic growth, cheaper health insurance, a stronger military, and an end to government waste. I am fortunate to sit on powerful Senate committees that provide a venue to do that. It is such an honor to represent the people of Louisiana in the United States Senate. Right now, that’s where I think I can do the most good.
I hope someone runs for Governor who understands that Louisiana state government does not have to be a big, slow, dumb, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, spend-money-like-it-was-ditchwater, anti-taxpayer, top down institution. I love Louisiana as much as I love my country, and the people of my state deserve a state government as good as they are.
Thank you to the many people who offered me advice about my decision. I listened carefully. You taught me a lot.
Finally, I want to thank the many constituents who encouraged me to run. Your support humbles me. It is my honor to serve you in the United States Senate. You, and your families, are the reason I get up to do this job each and every day.”
"Kennedy’s decision not to run for governor gives a lot of other republicans in the state a chance to re-evaluate whether they want to run. It’s a conservative state with a democratic governor,” Brian Brox, Ph.D., a Tulane University political scientist said.
While many were surprised by Kennedy’s decision, Dillard University political analyst Robert Collins, Ph.D., said he was not. Collins worked on Capitol Hill for two former La. U.S. senators.
“It doesn’t surprise me because number one, being a United States senator is actually a very good job, and I think Sen. Kennedy probably realized he has a good deal where he is,” Collins said. “Perhaps he didn’t think at this point in time in his career a difficult rough, slog of a governor’s race was really in his best interest.”
Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, a republican, has announced he will challenge Edwards. Some speculated Jeff Landry would run, but the republican Attorney General recently announced he would not enter the governor’s race.
And current GOP U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, spurned calls for him to enter the race, stating that he likes being in Congress. So, for now the GOP is without a candidate with statewide recognition.
"There’s still time and it’s a republican state,” Dr. Brox said.
La. GOP Chairman Louis Gurvich told FOX 8 he believes Kennedy would have made a great governor, had he run and won. Gurvich also said he believes Edwards is vulnerable and that the state GOP will have a “good candidate."
Gurvich added they will work to unify the party around the sole goal of defeating Edwards.
“A typical republican with a well-funded campaign would be a very strong challenge to a democrat in a state like Louisiana,” Brox said.
“It’ll be a close race, but it’ll be a difficult race,” Dr. Collins said.
When a majority of La. voters went for John Bel Edwards, the democrat, over republican David Vitter during the last governor’s race, the political dynamics were dramatically different.
"David Vitter was a flawed candidate going in. Here you had a candidate who had a history of a prostitution scandal, his unfavorable ratings were very high,” Collins said.
The national GOP and Democratic parties are expected to play a role in the race and send money to Louisiana.
"A lot of democrats are looking at this race to see how do we win a governorship in the south and how do we hold on to a governorship in the south?” So I think Gov. Edwards can depend on a lot of national attention in this race,” Collins said.
Collins added that Edwards appears to have a lot working for him even as he faces re-election challenges in a red state.
“He doesn’t have the same vulnerabilities that other democratic statewide elected officials have in other red states and that is because he’s a social conservative, he’s pro-life, he’s pro-second amendment,” Collins said.
Pundits say the national Democratic Party is still working to be more successful in the south.
“The party is facing some internal challenges between its progressive wing, as well as those who think that you need to craft candidates in southern areas that might appeal to more conservative electorates," Brox said. "So, is the party going to become more progressive, or is it going to be allowing for candidates like John Bel Edwards who can appeal to conservative states?”