On Thursday, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise once again said he was “not running for governor” of Louisiana this year against Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards, and ordinarily, Scalise’s newest statement is the kind of straightforward announcement we'd take to the bank. However, there’s reason to think that Scalise’s “no” isn’t as definitive as he may want it to seem.
To begin with, Politico reports that Scalise’s latest declaration only came after weeks of “buzz” that he was “toying with the idea of running for governor” and that unnamed “[o]peratives in D.C. and Louisiana have been approaching Scalise, asking him to run.” Scalise already said twice last year that he wouldn’t run, including over the summer when he declared there was “no way” he would seek the governorship, but at least some insiders think that he’s still considering despite that seemingly iron-clad pronouncement.
Scalise also followed his latest short statement with a series of comments that sound exactly like the sort of thing that politicians dodging this type of question always say. First, Scalise said, "There have been people who have asked me to run for a while. What I’ve told them is I appreciate their interest, but I have a job that I really enjoy.” That's a classic "not-a-no" dodge and a far cry from his earlier declaration that there was “no way” he’d run.
Then, Scalise name-checked the two Republicans already in the race, businessman Eddie Rispone and Rep. Ralph Abraham, but followed that up by saying, "It’s good to know there are good people running, let’s see what they do.” It's that "let's see what they do" that has us wondering what, in fact, Scalise is hoping to see. If he turns out to be unsatisfied with the efforts of Abraham and Rispone, will he decide to jump in himself? Our spidey-sense is telling us we can't rule out the possibility.
While we can’t know exactly what Scalise is thinking, of course, we do know that some Republicans aren’t happy with their two current choices.
Scott Wilfong, the chair of the state party’s rules committee, voiced some of the frustration out loud in mid-February, saying he’d “been getting a lot of chatter about, ‘Is this the field?’" Wilfong added that there was “definitely some movement to try to get another candidate into the race,” though he didn’t name any alternatives.
State GOP Chairman Louis Gurivch soon pushed back and said that “[f]rom the party’s perspective, we feel very confident that we have two great candidates in the race for governor,” but it doesn’t sound like Wilfong was just speaking for himself. A few days later, LAPolitics summed up the knocks against both declared Republicans, writing that “Abraham has the personality but not the money to win” while Rispone’s detractors say he “has the money but not the personality to shake trees and move rooms.”
Indeed, Wilfong characterized Abraham’s first fundraising report, in which the congressman revealed he’d raised $357,000 during the final weeks of 2018, as “very concerning.” The good news for Abraham’s team, which insists they’ve been bringing in plenty of money since the start of the new year, is that the current fundraising quarter ends in about a month, so they’ll soon have a chance to change the narrative about the financial state of their campaign.
However, Louisiana’s candidate filing deadline isn’t until Aug. 8, so Republicans who want an alternative to Abraham and Rispone have almost half a year to search for one. And it’s not uncommon in the Pelican State for politicians to only decide whether they'll jump in in the last hours of the race, so these disgruntled Republicans may keep looking until the very possible moment. Even if no other major candidates end up running, this could mean five more months of Abraham and Rispone having to deal with chatter about how a better choice might be just around the corner.
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