If you’re planning to run for governor and you haven’t revealed your intentions or leanings to a sizable circle of human beings, then you may be drawing dangerously close to a line of demarcation where throwing all of your campaign money into a pile and lighting it on fire has even odds with launching a legitimate bid.
That’s not to say the field is set heading into the holiday dead zone. One potential candidate, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, is still on the fence. Anyone else who does get froggy enough to bounce in will only complicate matters for the parties and muddy what already looks to be a complex and cash-heavy fundraising cycle.
Then again, this is a race for Louisiana’s governorship, so logic matters less than the random chaos that will eventually transform this 2019 election into either a snooze-fest or another “Don’t Tell Mama” barnburner. As a former secretary of state once noted, the truth is somewhere in the middle — unless it’s a Bayou State gubernatorial election. We take it hot or cold here, and rarely if ever the mild to moderate temperatures that supposedly exist in between.
The insiders who live outside of the state favor the re-election campaign of Gov. John Bel Edwards. For instance, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which is connected to the University of Virginia, rates Louisiana’s big race as "leans Democratic.”
Two announced Republicans don’t see it that way. Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman and education advocate Eddie Rispone are planning aggressive bids for the same demographics, which means one could eventually benefit at the cost of the other. On the surface, the contrasts between Abraham and Rispone are few and far between. Therefore, on the Republican side of the ticket, there’s now a soft-spoken, well-mannered and graying “nice guy” who’s good with money running against a soft-spoken, well-mannered and graying “nice guy” who’s good with money.
It’s important to keep in mind that those labels are merely the simplified elevator pitches for both men, and in rather broad strokes. Yet the candidates possess the exact qualities — patience and understanding — that party hardliners often claim they want, for strategic purposes. If the long-held intentions of the GOP to focus fire on the enemy rather than each other were ever going to happen with any degree of success, Abraham and Rispone would be the players to pull it off. And if those skids do get greased, and the field stays as clear as it is now, Democratic strategists may have to turn to another well-funded page in their playbooks.
Abraham and Rispone each draw a remarkable contrast in newsprint and on screens when paired with Edwards, a populist street fighter who sports a Rolex and the blue collar of Tangipahoa Parish. Edwards’ inaugural term has been defined by both his occasional stubbornness and his trademark centrist approach, which could be categorized as open-minded to the point of scratching against the grain of public opinion.
Edwards’ style of governing has created a re-election landscape where a number of the Capitol’s movers and shakers seemingly want to support his quest for a second term, but they don’t want anyone knowing. If these secret-squirrel showings of support intensify, they would collectively be the strongest sign to date that Team JBE is sitting prettier than many think. (The potential significance multiplies when coupled with the mounting buzz that prominent trial bar members are already saying no to other races in an effort to pool resources for Edwards’ re-election.)
From the perspective of the lobbying corps, government relations specialists are battling with the ancient riddle of how to be a whale of a donor without showing up as hosts on invites. Additionally, elected officials who missed picking sides in 2015, and offering early support to the governor-to-be, are said to be “just-sorta bumping” into the now-governor at his fundraisers and events — while later taking care to claim coincidence.
Playing both sides of the field in a major election can be an art. But not playing at all is a different matter, and that’s a soft undercurrent that’s running through the minds of a select few who ply a trade in the business lobby. The governor doesn’t get loosy-goosy when it comes to core policy issues. He’s predictable, if not disagreeable, in the eyes of those who advocate for industry, and that could be enough to keep some naysayers on the bench.
Everything depends on which politicos actually qualify. The field is never truly set until it's set. During the last race for governor, there were characters emerging from the bushes and bayous all the way up until the final moments of qualifying in 2015.
As for the quiet donors, careful lobbyists and the undercurrent among influencers, that type of stuff only matters to political and government professionals who spend or make money in the vicinity of the Capitol. The public perception side of this marquee race is far from being molded, but the New Year will change that rather quickly.