In a true surprise, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has opted to seek re-election rather than enter October’s all-party primary to succeed term-limited Democrat John Bel Edwards as governor of Louisiana. This development came the same day that another Republican, state Treasurer John Schroder, launched his own gubernatorial bid. Nungesser’s decision upends a race that already included Attorney General Jeff Landry, a far-right Republican the lieutenant governor is not fond of, and attorney Hunter Lundy, who is running as an independent.
Nungesser, while an ardent conservative, has worked well with Edwards in the past, and he'd intended to win over some of the Democrat's supporters had he sought a promotion. But now that Nungesser isn’t running, it remains to be seen whether another Republican will attempt to secure that same type of crossover support by arguing they represent the best chance to keep Landry from winning the governor’s mansion in this dark red state. In the likely event that no one secures a majority in October, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to a November runoff.
Local political observers have for years speculated that the Pelican State could host precisely this sort of Republican vs. Republican showdown between Nungesser and Landry. The only thing that seemed likely to deter Nungesser from jumping in was the possible candidacy of yet another prominent Republican, Sen. John Kennedy, but last week Kennedy said that he’d stay out of the governor’s race. That move made Nungesser's decision to eschew the contest all the more unexpected, since just last month he telegraphed that he’d get in if Kennedy wouldn’t, saying, “If he doesn't, I have to run. Jeff is not a good person.”
Nungesser said he’d reveal his plans on his birthday Tuesday, and while he told LaPolitics twice last week that he had a “tough” decision to make, there didn’t seem to be much suspense about what that decision would be. On Monday, though, The Advocate published a statement from Nungesser in which he wrote that he would run for re-election because he had “unfinished business” helping the state’s tourism sector, which he oversees as lieutenant governor, in its efforts to recover from the pandemic and recent storms. (Why he thinks he couldn't help the tourism industry as governor is unclear.)
Schroder, meanwhile, did kick off his bid for governor Monday, hours before The Advocate published its report, a move that came a few days earlier than the Thursday launch date he’d originally planned. Schroder won his post in a 2017 special election, but he’s fared poorly in the few polls we’ve seen for the race for governor. The most recent numbers came from a December internal for Nungesser that put Schroder at just 2%, though the lieutenant governor’s absence could give his would-be rival an opening.
Schroder, however, spent the months leading up to his launch positioning himself as another conservative hardliner rather than a less-extreme Republican in the Nungesser mold. He notably tried to boost his profile by appearing on Fox News last month to brag about his decision to pull nearly $800 million in state funds out of the investment giant BlackRock over its environment, social, and governance policies, which include taking the effects of global warming into account when making investment decisions. Schroder’s self-described “crusade” against BlackRock and other firms predictably earned the treasurer the praise he desired from host Tucker Carlson.
Landry, for his part, unveiled an endorsement from Rep. Mike Johnson, who represents the Shreveport area. Landry previously won the backing of Rep. Clay Higgins even though a third member of the GOP’s House delegation, Garret Graves, remains a potential candidate.
Graves is by no means the only Republican we’re still watching, though. State Sen. Sharon Hewitt has said she’ll decide sometime this month, while state Rep. Richard Nelson said Monday he’ll announce if he’ll run next week. It’s also possible that other GOP politicians will take a new look at this race, especially now that they know they'll be facing neither Kennedy nor Nungesser.
On the Democratic side, state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, who would be the first Black person elected to statewide office since Reconstruction, formed an exploratory committee last month and said Monday he plans to decide “very soon.” New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno and state party chair Katie Bernhardt each haven’t ruled out running either, and while East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore sounded like he was unlikely to run in a recent interview, LaPolitics is hinting that he showed more interest in a soon-to-be-published conversation.
But we may be left wondering what the field looks like for a while: Louisiana’s filing deadline isn’t until August, and because it’s not uncommon for politicians at all levels to decide whether they'll jump in during the last hours of the qualifying.