Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s best shot in his expected plea for people to elect him governor was frontrunner GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry has a nasty political style and is “not a nice” person. And explains why he passed on exiting his current post.
With Republican Sen. John Kennedy expectedly opting out of running, Nungesser seemed poised this week formally to announce he will take the plunge. There was little time to wait as Landry stole a march on all opponents months ago with his formal announcement, since then piling up campaign dollars and racking up endorsements, including the state party’s, to Nungesser’s chagrin.
Nungesser has a poll, commissioned by him and not released publicly, showing him neck and neck with Landry, which is the first such that hasn’t put him considerably behind Landry. That may be as others have included Kennedy’s name, yet that omission questionably explains the difference. The fact is, Kennedy is significantly closer to Landry on the issues than to Nungesser, so without Kennedy in the contest the bulk of his intended voters should switch allegiance to Landry.
And Nungesser knows this, that Landry has built himself over his seven years as attorney general a reputation for protecting citizens against big government as well as right-sizing that government to enhance individual opportunity. This increasingly has resonated with a public tired of a Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration that has done little to stop government growth and accelerated prying into the lives of citizens, resulting in the third worst population change and second worst personal income growth among the states over the past year.
As the state’s second-ranked official in an almost do-nothing job, Nungesser had little chance to insert himself as a foe to Edwards’ policies. Worse, what few opportunities he has had, he hasn’t, and calls himself moderate exactly as the state’s electorate more and more has fatigued with that idea in the face of a failing governorship and hesitant Legislature begging for decisive leadership in a countering conservative direction. There is fading appetite for yet another get-along-go-along politician who won’t take the big steps necessary to turn things around, which is how Nungesser is perceived.
Nungesser understands he cannot fit this conservative reformist bill. Worst of all, he can’t depend upon state Democrats to help him out with tacit support, in hoping they would go with half a loaf in him thinking they can’t have the whole loaf. Democrats are committed to running a quality candidate because they desperately need to retain the office to have any governing influence over the next four years, must have a top candidate to help carry down ballot candidates, and they have to run an establishment racial minority ally to prevent another of the outsider woke kind from capturing the party’s base from them.
With Landry effectively consolidating much of the conservative vote and Democrats unwilling to forgo supporting one of their own reliable liberals, Nungesser had nowhere to go. So, apparently the only arrow in his quiver was to allege that Landry is “unelectable” thus he deserved a shot instead. This tactic appears alluding to GOP former Sen. David Vitter, seen as a conservative but abrasive candidate, who lost out to Edwards in 2015.
But this is an entirely different situation. Edwards was a little-known leftist state representative who used that obscurity to make himself a blank slate to win over enough of a center-right electorate. Any Democrat running this year will have the unpopularity of Democrat Pres. Joe Biden hung around his neck, if not that of Edwards’ failings. And, despite having won comfortably Senate reelection in 2010 after admission of a “serious sin” believed to involve prostitution, Edwards revived the issue, aided by other Republican candidates and a lukewarm defense by other state elected Republicans, to pierce Vitter’s shield of conservative voters
Landry has no such skeleton in the closet, and his has built strong relations with a number of state and local elected Republicans over the years that Vitter found impossible to do, in part because he was based in Washington, in part because of his temperament. That’s as far as activists go; as far as the voting public, Landry has a long list of examples he can point to fighting for the people in ways that please that center-right majority and cement their support at the polls.
In short, Nungesser’s “unelectable” contention will be a hard sell past a small portion of the conservative base. It was all he had, putting him in trouble because in politics, as some Republicans relearned his past fall, you can’t beat something with nothing.