Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy has been called slick-talking, folksy and Senator Soundbite. Recently he’s earned a couple of new nicknames: Big Tease and Drama Queen.
For close to a year, Kennedy has masterfully played his “Will he-won’t he?” schtick, sucking all the oxygen out of the discussion over which Republican is best suited to challenge incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
I wrote in an Oct. 27 column, “Expect a Kennedy-Edwards race next year.”
I wasn’t the only one swayed by what many considered Kennedy’s obvious attempt to discourage other Republicans from joining the race. He paid for and released a poll earlier this year showing himself as the only candidate that could beat Edwards. The poll had Kennedy beating the governor by a margin of 51 to 37 percent.
Other than multimillionaire businessman Eddie Rispone, who plans on spending $5 million of his own money, all other potential Republican contenders stayed on the sideline, assuming Kennedy would run. Why wouldn’t they? Raising money would be close to impossible with most big donors waiting to see what the perceived front-runner, Kennedy, would do. Because of Kennedy waiting so long to announce his intentions, potential candidates have for the most part lost out on raising money for 2018. With campaign limits capped each calendar year, that’s a lot of cash left on the table.
“John Kennedy was blocking all the other Republicans who were considering the race from getting in while he was playing Hamlet on the bayou,” said seasoned political analyst Jim Engster.
Kennedy gave us every impression he was running. It appeared his campaign to oust Edwards had already begun. The senator came across as obsessed with the governor, sniffing out any opportunity to criticize him. At one point Kennedy even called for Edwards to resign.
It’s unusual for a U.S. Senator to spend so much time and energy criticizing the governor of the state he serves. Compare Kennedy’s constant attacks of Edwards to the stance of his fellow Republican in the Senate, Bill Cassidy. It’s rare for Cassidy to criticize Edwards. The same is generally true for the rest of Louisiana’s congressional delegation, although Edwards and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Baton Rouge have sparred from time to time on flood recovery issues. When’s the last time you heard Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise attack Edwards?
But Kennedy’s attention-getting ways were most apparent with his refusal to say when he would decide whether or not to run. Month after month, Kennedy’s indecision paralyzed the potential field. Only recently did Kennedy promise to announce by Dec. 1. But that day came and went, with Kennedy squeezing out a couple more days of his look-at-me, notice-me, charade. Finally, on Monday, Kennedy said he would not run.
“I love being in the United States Senate. I will not be a candidate for governor in 2019,” Kennedy said in a release.
You would think Edwards would appreciate Kennedy elbowing out most potential contenders for most of the year. The governor should have thanked Kennedy. Instead, he insulted him.
“For Sen. Kennedy, this was never about the people of Louisiana. This was about focusing the spotlight on himself,” Edwards said in a written statement.
Political analyst Clancy DuBos said on WWL-TV that Kennedy has toyed with the idea of running for governor for close to 20 years.
“I think Kennedy accomplished his goal. He got to fire a few shots across John Bel Edwards’ bow, get himself some publicity and then go back to the Senate were he pretty much has a safe seat,” said DuBos.
We’ll never know for sure why Kennedy didn’t run. He could’ve been scared. Edwards enjoys strong approval ratings and is anything but a far-left Democrat. It’s never easy beating an incumbent even if he is a Democrat in a red state. And Kennedy would have had a tough time explaining potentially abandoning his Senate seat so soon to become governor.
While Kennedy enjoyed a lot of attention teasing us about running, he also left Republican voters without a clear front-runner with less than a year before the election.
What’s ironic is that Edwards’ harshest and most frequent critic ended up helping him. The governor should consider sending Kennedy a nice Christmas gift this year.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.
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