Alford: Picking lane for governor’s race
Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.
After moving swiftly last year to secure the early support of the Louisiana Republican Party, Attorney General Jeff Landry is preparing to leave soon for Mar-A-Lago to finalize another endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
Doing so will put Landry in a position to tackle two tasks simultaneously, starting with what he hopes will be the galvanization of the far right in this developing race for governor. With the state GOP and Trump behind the Cajun candidate, Team Landry won’t have to work as hard to keep those affiliated conservative voters engaged and happy — or at least they hope so.
Such a scenario will also allow Landry to focus on his messaging to the middle, which in some respects has already started. During last week’s candidate forum hosted by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Landry reminded those in attendance that he had more “bipartisan votes” than anyone else when he left Congress in 2013
Landry had a lot to say during the forum for those who were listening. “There’s nothing new under the sun about who I am,” Landry said after pointing to his “bipartisan votes.”
Such an approach might come as a surprise to those who think Landry will champion only a far-right brand. But, as Republicans have learned, when you make it into a gubernatorial runoff in Louisiana against a Democrat, the candidate who can appeal to the middle has an edge.
Going after Trump’s endorsement now, when Landry could easily wait until after qualifying for a hot Labor Day bounce, also serves as a signal to other Republican contenders. In particular, Landry supporters wanted Congressman Garret Graves to see and feel that signal last week.
Graves has spent most of the year refusing to show his hand on the governor’s race. As of the writing of this column (the morning of Tuesday, March 7), however, it seemed like Graves was preparing to announce his intentions not to run.
Supporters of Graves’ pragmatic brand of politics saw an opening in the governor’s race when Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser opted to run instead for re-election. Nungesser was seen as a contender who could speak to Republicans, Democrats and everyone in between.
Will the other announced Republican candidates — state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, state Rep. Richard Nelson and Treasurer John Schroder — seek out that middle lane, or will they track to the right to compete with Landry? Will former Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, the only major Democrat in the race, present a moderate campaign, like his old boss Gov. John Bel Edwards, or will he lean more to the left?
Heading into this week, there was speculation that Stephen Waguespack, the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, might become a candidate. He too could offer a more digestible alternative to Landry’s firebrand.
As for how strong Trump’s endorsement will be, it depends on which polling you like. Polling from the Landry camp, of course, shows a nod from the former POTUS could be monumental. Other polling from as recently as December shows the scales continuing to tip against Trump in Louisiana, due to climbing unfavorables.
If anyone in the current field can get to the right of Landry, it may be Lake Charles attorney Hunter Lundy, an Independent who is already taking aim at the attorney general.
On Twitter (@Lundy4Louisiana), Lundy has described Landry as a politician who “clutches (his) pearls in fake outrage.” Lundy also tweeted that “the only thing faker than his outrage is his polling.”
Rolling Stone magazine recently published a lengthy article entitled “The Christian Nationalist Machine Turning Hate Into Law” that brings into question exactly which issues Lundy might run on.
Lundy, who could not be reached for comment, is reportedly on the governing board of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, which the article states is not only targeting legislatures, “but also governors’ mansions.”
The association seeks to influence policy from a “biblical world view,” according to its website, and many members believe in a Judeo-Christian-based government. While such rhetoric could help Lundy get to the right of Landry, the real question will be how many votes could Lundy gain in doing so.
Candidates still have a bit of time to choose (and even change) their ideological lanes for this evolving race. But time will eventually run out for such character development.