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Senate election politics impinge on LA governor's race

Politics dictates that Louisiana can’t even get through its gubernatorial election before senatorial election considerations come into play, illustrating a past potentially bad political call.

From the Republican perspective, the continued silence of erstwhile candidate for governor Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle regarding any endorsement for Republican Sen. David Vitter for the office speaks unwanted volumes. It might seem the most natural thing in the world to lend his support, as Angelle made a conscious effort to position himself as a conservative alternative to Vitter for voters inclined to the GOP.

However, given Vitter’s underperformance to date in securing the office, Angelle now may think that, regardless of Vitter winning, losing, or drawing, he’ll pursue the Senate seat of Vitter’s in 2016, making an endorsement now of a potential future opponent for another office counterproductive. That reticence brought a rebuke this week from Republican Treasurer John Kennedy, whose motives for doing so don’t seem quite as clear.

Long linked with a possible Senate campaign in 2016, Kennedy presumably would attempt that only if Vitter vacated the office for the Governor’s Mansion. That would explain Kennedy’s full-throated support for Vitter throughout the latter’s quest for the state’s highest office, after the former himself answered negatively speculation that he would run.

If Vitter wins, Kennedy becomes one of the favored, if not the leading, candidates to replace the two-term senator. By reiterating his support for Vitter, Kennedy accomplished two things, one being that this can help Vitter across the finish line first, both from the acknowledgment again that he backs Vitter with whatever votes that scares up and that if Vitter does triumph then it will magnify Kennedy’s contribution to that victory, perhaps appearing even crucial. As recompense, a Gov. Vitter then may appoint Kennedy to fill his unexpired term, giving the guy who just won a fourth reelection as treasurer a leg up in next fall’s election.

Less certainty surrounds Kennedy’s intentions should Vitter lose. Possibly he would advocate to Vitter, as other Republicans might, for him to step aside because of his weak showing in 2015. Whether Vitter would listen remains another matter. He did say previously that if elected governor he considered that his last political job, but, as expected of a candidate for any office, did not say what his future held should he lose. And, as a practical consideration, 2016 likely would present him with a friendlier electorate than state elections, where for federal elections turnout trends disproportionately higher among registered Republicans than for other groups.

Yet with his unwavering, long-time support for Vitter out there for all the public to see, that would make a Kennedy challenge to a Vitter defeated for governor but wishing for Senate reelection seem inauthentic and sap some strength from his putative campaign. Should Vitter lose, Kennedy may find that circumstances conspire to have him live out his days in politics as treasurer, sitting on a pile of campaign cash that under different circumstances could have launched him into the Senate.

Which makes his decision not to run for governor now perhaps rueful, and not just to him. Because he speaks in a more populist fashion than Vitter, even if less so than the Democrat who made the runoff with Vitter state Rep. John Bel Edwards, Kennedy would siphon votes from Edwards and, in retrospect, may have outpaced Vitter in the general election phase. Rather than the tight runoff contest now confronting the state GOP that by all rights should favor its candidate clearly, Kennedy likely would win easily against Edwards.

But that’s water under the bridge, with the real-world results possibly setting Angelle, Kennedy, and Vitter on a collision course none could have foreseen even this summer.

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