Louisiana is undoubtedly a red state. But in 2015 and 2019, it went against the grain by electing and reelecting Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. As a result, Louisiana — which former President Donald Trump carried by 19 percentage points in 2020 — is the second-most Republican-leaning state with a Democratic governor, behind only Kentucky. On Saturday, though, Louisianans will head to the polls to potentially decide their next governor, and it looks like a red wave could wash over the blue bayou.
That’s because Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry is the front-runner to succeed Edwards, who is term-limited. Still, Landry will have to overcome a host of other contenders to win. Louisiana uses a “jungle primary” system in which all candidates, regardless of party, are on the ballot together. Should one candidate win a majority on Oct. 14, that candidate will be elected, but otherwise there’ll be a Nov. 18 runoff between the two leading vote-getters. As things stand, a runoff between Landry and former Louisiana Secretary of Transportation Shawn Wilson, the leading Democrat, appears most likely. Although some other notable candidates are running, none of them look likely to overtake Wilson for a second runoff spot.
Landry wasn’t always such a clear favorite, though. Last year, more centrist-minded Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser looked set to tussle with the hard-right Landry for the governorship. But Nungesser announced in January that he would seek reelection instead, which left the door open for a Landry alternative on the GOP side. Four other notable candidates are in the governor’s race, including three Republicans — state Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt, state Treasurer John Schroder and former Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack — and independent attorney Hunter Lundy, but all of them clearly trail Landry and Wilson in the polls.
Across four polls conducted in August and September, Landry led by double-digit margins over Wilson, while no other candidate reached 10 percent. Now, each poll had a fair number of undecided voters, and we’ve seen no new public polling since mid-September, so there remains some uncertainty about just how this will play out. However, Landry averaged close to 40 percent and Wilson almost 25 percent, so unless they lose meaningful support, one of the other candidates is going to need to find a way to attract a majority of remaining voters to overtake Wilson.
Landry has led this race in pretty much all departments. As of Sept. 24, he’d raised $9.3 million in 2023, which built on the $5 million he already had in the bank at the start of the year. In turn, he’s spent $9.7 million this year, more than three times as much as his nearest opponent. Landry also has many high-profile endorsements, most notably from Trump but also from the conservative Club for Growth. The state GOP made an early statement in the race by endorsing Landry last November, and other Republicans like Sen. Bill Cassidy and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise — possibly the next speaker of the House — have since lined up behind the attorney general. Additionally, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association also endorsed Landry after backing Edwards in both 2015 and 2019.
But none of this has kept the other candidates from trying to shake up the race. Supporters of Waguespack, who once served as chief of staff for former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, hoped he could lead an “anyone but Landry” coalition of Republicans who disliked Landry’s culture-warrior tendencies. Waguespack had brought in $3.1 million as of late September, and he’s used that dough on ads pitching himself as a business leader and outsider who can get things done. Sounding more like a traditional business-friendly conservative, Waguespack also wants to reduce regulations and lower income taxes while trying to decentralize more governmental operations.
In the late spring and early summer, an ad war between Landry and Waguespack allies signaled that Landry backers likely viewed Waguespack as Landry’s greatest threat. Reboot Louisiana, a super PAC backing Waguespack, launched a nearly $2 million advertising campaign in which it took aim at Landry’s law-and-order credentials, arguing that Louisiana had become the country’s most dangerous state during his tenure. Scalise appealed for the group to take down the ad, cautioning that GOP infighting helped Edwards in 2015 and 2019. In response, Landry’s allies at Protect Louisiana’s Children hit Waguespack for the state’s economic problems under Jindal, who left office deeply unpopular. In a bad sign for Waguespack’s chances, Reboot Louisiana didn’t refill its coffers in September and spent only a little bit in that time.
For their part, Schroder and Hewitt have failed to make an impact on the race despite their profiles. Schroder had raised $809,000 as of Sept. 24, but he had spent $2.2 million thanks to the $2.4 million he had in the bank at the start of 2023. His campaign has run ads attacking Landry and Waguespack as political insiders while arguing that Schroder can fight the state’s corruption and cronyism. But Landry’s allies struck back at Schroder by calling the state treasurer “more of the same” and linking him to Jindal and Edwards. Meanwhile, Hewitt has struggled to bring in money, raising just $309,000 this year while spending $819,000 with help from the $618,000 she already had in her account. She’s pitched her policy chops to voters, but with more limited resources and poor polling, it’s hard to see how she has any shot.
Beyond the four main Republicans, there’s also Lundy, a wealthy attorney running as an independent who has loaned his campaign $3.3 million as part of the $4.4 million he’s raised overall, second only to Landry. Lundy has campaigned as a conservative Christian and political outsider with a working-class background. But he’s also courted some controversy: Lundy is a member of the governing board of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, an organization that promotes Christian nationalist views by advancing “biblical” legislation in state legislatures.
This brings us to Wilson, who has consolidated Democratic support in the race. A former member of Edwards’s cabinet who oversaw the state’s transportation network, Wilson has raised about $2 million and has run ads pitching himself as someone who will “build bridges, not burn them” by bringing people of all backgrounds together. That message both acts as a contrast with the more combative Landry while also hewing to the bipartisan approach Edwards employed during his successful campaigns. As a Democrat, Wilson already faces obvious political hurdles in Louisiana, but unlike Edwards, Wilson is Black, and no Black candidate has won statewide since Reconstruction.
Looking ahead to a likely runoff matchup between Landry and Wilson, the GOP almost certainly has the upper hand. We’ve seen two polls in the past two months that tested the two head-to-head, and Landry had double-digit leads in both. In mid-September, Mason-Dixon/Gray Television found Landry ahead 52 percent to 39 percent, and in mid-August, Faucheux Strategies found Landry up 54 percent to 36 percent in a survey for a consortium of Louisiana media outlets and nonprofit groups. Landry has a huge financial edge, too, as he had nearly $7 million in his war chest in late September, while Wilson had just $880,000. Moreover, Landry is getting more outside help: A Republican Governors Association affiliate in the state has already spent $2.8 million, mostly on attack ads against Wilson.
This is not to say that something couldn’t change the course of the race. But barring something unexpected, Landry will be favored should the race go to a runoff. He could even win outright on Saturday if he significantly outruns his polls. And if Landry wins, Louisiana Republicans will have a trifecta — control of the governorship and both chambers in the state legislature — for the first time in eight years, during which time Edwards often used his veto pen to block legislation passed by the heavily Republican legislature.
Source : ABC