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Hewitt quality, but with tough road to top job

So-called moderates pining for a candidate in Louisiana’s governor’s race this year won’t find one in Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, but she does provide a home for conservatives disenchanted with the frontrunner.

Hewitt jumped into the race last week to provide conservatives with yet a third choice. She followed GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry and GOP Treas. John Schroder. The latter joined in only days before her, but Landry kicked things off months ago and since has amassed an impressive array of endorsements including the state party’s and a truckload of cash to spread his message.

With over her last term, as the party leader in the chamber, a Louisiana Legislative Log score of over 98 and the chamber’s highest (where 100 would be a conservative/reform vote every time), she would fit the bill for anybody-but-Landry conservatives. Her problem is that this alone won’t be enough to catapult her into office.

For one thing, she doesn’t quite have the pizzaz of Landry, whose elected office against a liberal Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion John Bel Edwards willing to overreach on executive power again and again gave him plenty of opportunities to display his credentials and win a fan base on the right. And for the last two years a Washington controlled by Democrats has given him another arena where he had to go to battle for the same reason.

Schroder, to a lesser degree, also has had the same chance to show his conservative mettle with his moves to prevent putting banked state tax dollars in harm’s way or to feather the nests of entities because of putting politics ahead of fiduciary responsibilities. But Hewitt in her seven years in the Senate has focused mainly on nuts-and-bolts measures that advanced conservatism, but not in a high-profile way.

Campaign resources could compensate somewhat for this, but here she trails Landry substantially and isn’t that close to Schroder, either. As of the end of 2021 she had fewer than $300,000 in campaigning dollars which is at least a tenth of what would be needed to run a winning campaign, and her political action committee, in contrast to theirs, hardly has any dough. This might be a chicken-and-egg deal, where the higher profiles of the other duo draw more dollars to them to keep that profile high to suck in more cash, a virtuous cycle she has yet to crack.

Not having statewide office has something to do with this but, worse for her, she and Schroder share a similar north shore political base. Landry dominates in Acadiana and westward and also has a strong presence in north Louisiana, with much more support there than the St. Tammany Parish-based pair.

To have a chance, she’ll really have to turn things around. Polling to this point has her, like Schroder, bumping along with barely any support, but, unlike Schroder, she doesn’t have a statewide office as an amplifier nor as yet money to hold off the steamroller Landry is threatening to become. Still, she may have an ace up her sleeve her and there; for example, the Baton Rouge Advocate owner John Georges just over a year ago donated money to her and not to the others, so she might get a boost in relative coverage from that outlet.

Hewitt might have started with a stronger candidacy had she aimed for statewide office this cycle and succeeded there to give her four-to-eight years of exposure there. But time isn’t on her side; if she wins, she would become by just a matter of months the second-oldest governor ever, just behind Republican Mike Foster, also a state senator – but one who plunked down $2 million of his own cash to get started and went from there. (The same dynamic applies to Schroder, only a few years younger, who if he waited would have become the oldest if he won.)

But you don’t win big if you don’t play big. At this point, Hewitt’s base is small and a lot will have to go right for her to triumph, but it’s certainly not impossible for that to happen.

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