Statewide elections next year have become more interesting in Louisiana with developments over the past ten days.
Republican former Rep. John Fleming made it official earlier this month by formally announcing a run for lieutenant governor. Although he said he would wait on a formal announcement from incumbent Republican Billy Nungesser that he wouldn’t run for reelection in pursuit of the state’s top office, Fleming committed fully less than a month after Nungesser told attendees at a function related to his job that he fully intended to shoot for the state’s top spot.
Fleming brings much to the table to make his a formidable candidacy: his most recent government work including a stint at the White House, past congressional service, having run a credible statewide campaign (for Senate, where he didn’t make the runoff), his ability to self-finance, and his desire for the job unclouded by its use as a stepping stone for something else that should appeal to voters uncomfortable with a steady stream of candidates over the years who asked to be elected to the least political/policy-oriented statewide office but who clearly wanted to use it to audition for very politicized/policy-oriented executive offices. And it made sense for him to start the fundraising and publicity now regardless of Nungesser’s intentions.
An early start puts other potential contenders, most prominently each chamber leader of the Legislature Republicans Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Pres. Page Cortez, at risk of losing potential donors willing to commit to a quality candidate early and gives Fleming more opportunity to refresh voters’ memories of him. Even if he makes minimal inroads into donors and activists who stay committed to other unannounced candidates, his deep pockets mean he can hit the ground running, keep running, and start cordoning off voters before others have a chance to wrap up voters, if not discouraging quality opponents from entering the race.
However, Nungesser wasn’t the only one sliding into a gubernatorial run. GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry last week gave his strongest signals yet that he would take the plunge for the Governor’s Mansion when, at an annual fundraising event, paraphernalia was passed out proclaiming such a bid was in the offing.
Somewhat stale polling shows Landry well ahead of Nungesser and even further distancing the other declared candidate, Republican Treasury Sec. John Schroder. In their official campaign accounts at the end of 2021 Landry’s held over $3 million while Nungesser had $2.4 million and Schroder $2 million, although Landry has an affiliated political action committee but which can’t spend on his campaign’s behalf with nearly $1.7 million bankrolled, as does Schroder although with a pittance available, and Nungesser has old campaign accounts with several tens of thousands available.
When Landry remained mum upon his solicitor general Republican Liz Murrill announcing she would run for his job, it fueled speculation he wouldn’t vie for reelection in favor of looking to reach the top spot. Now with the latest event in the books so obviously pointing to a quest for governor, it’s easy to forget that this is nothing in coyness; it appeared obvious that GOP former Gov. Bobby Jindal was running the moment he fell short in 2003 and then didn’t formally announce until a mere three months prior to the contest he won handily.