Kennedy in the driver’s seat
State Treasurer John Kennedy is a candidate for the U.S. Senate. You wouldn’t know it if you had paid attention to the remarks he made last week at a Press Club luncheon in Baton Rouge. At the very least, you could have gotten the impression he was gearing up to oppose Gov. John Bel Edwards in the 2019 governor’s race. That’s possible, too, but for now, Kennedy, a Republican, says he’s running to succeed Sen. David Vitter. A staunch Republican, Vitter who opted not to seek re-election after losing last fall’s gubernatorial race to Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Kennedy’s message to the Press Club was crystal clear: The Legislature approved the largest tax increases in the history of the state in legislative sessions dating to last year. The underlying tone, though not spelled out, is it was Edwards’ fault. The bureaucracy that is state government bears some of the blame, too. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal played a role in it as well.
In other words, it was vintage Kennedy, who has a knack for recognizing what’s bothering people and placing the blame where it belongs — on everything and everybody but himself.
That’s obviously going to be Kennedy’s strategy in a Senate campaign that already has attracted five other Republicans, two of which are members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and five Democrats, including an outspoken, populist Public Service Commissioner from a tiny town called Elm Grove.
If Kennedy is successful in succeeding Vitter, a couple of things need to play out. The economy in Louisiana must remain stagnant, which it will as long as the oil patch is suffering, and voters much feel the pinch from the more than $2 billion in new taxes the Legislature has approved since the spring of 2015, which they already have.
To surmise, if there ever was a time for Kennedy to break free from playing second fiddle to becoming one of the players in the limelight, it’s now. Polling thus far on this fall’s Senate race says a majority of Louisianians know who Kennedy is. The lion’s share of them has a favorable opinion of him.
The same can’t be said of the two Republican congressmen in the race, Charles Boustany of Lafayette and John Fleming of Minden. Though they’re well thought of in their own congressional districts, a majority of the voters don’t have a clue who they are. Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel, ran a respectable race for the Senate 2014, but he’ll be hampered by the same problem that stopped his ’14 campaign dead in its tracks: no money.
Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, without a doubt the most colorful candidate in the race, has emerged as the standard bearer for the Democrats. He has Edwards’ backing, which is significant, but if history tells us anything, a Louisiana governor doesn’t do well when he attempts to convince the voters to support one of his own.
Remember Gov. Mike Foster? He weighed in for then-Congressman John Cooksey in Cooksey’s unsuccessful campaign in 2002 to unseat then-Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Meanwhile, Caroline Fayard is another Democrat in the race, which poses an interesting problem for the governor. Fayard’s father is Calvin Fayard, an uber successful plaintiff’s attorney who now lives in New Orleans. Fayard, the father, is very close to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Daughter Caroline is a Clintonite, too. Or at least she used to be.
The Fayards, like the Landrieus, are Democratic royalty in Louisiana, which means they represent a faction of the state Democratic Party that Edwards must keep happy if he hopes to win re-election in just three years.
There are other Democrats in the race including a wealthy African-American, Josh Pellerin, who’s financing his own campaign. Which poses a significant problem for Campbell, who, with Edwards’ help, has the urban machine in his corner.
Bluntly put, a well-financed black candidate could cut Campbell’s legs out from under him and cost him a shot at the run-off in December. If that scenario plays out, it’s Kennedy and another Republican in the run-off.
Try as they might, even the Republicans couldn’t muck that up.
Sam Hanna is a state