Louisiana's blistering U.S. Senate race is finally over. Get ready for the 2015 governor's race as candidates and would-be candidates already are jockeying for position. Qualifying is Sept. 8-10, 2015. The open primary is next Oct. 24; the runoff is Nov. 21.
The field is far from set, but those who have expressed some intention to run include U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Metairie, state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle of New Iberia.
Other potential candidates include New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, state Treasurer John Kennedy of Zachary, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Elm Grove and The Advocate newspaper publisher John Georges of New Orleans. There could be others.
Vitter, Dardenne, Angelle and Kennedy are Republicans; Edwards, Landrieu, Campbell and Georges are Democrats.
It's too early to predict anything, including who actually will make the race, but it's likely the field will have more Republicans than Democrats. Louisiana is redder than ever, and there's no reason to think the statewide political climate will be any more hospitable to Democrats next fall than it was for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu this year.
To be sure, a lot could change between now and next October, but one thing that's not likely to change is the fact that Barack Obama is president. That's good news for Vitter, who leads all early polls and was the architect of Congressman Bill Cassidy's anti-Obama campaign against Mary Landrieu. It's bad news for Mitch Landrieu, who won his mayoral re-election earlier this year with an endorsement from Obama. You can bet Vitter (or another Republican) will hang Obama around the mayor's neck if he jumps into the governor's race next year, just as the GOP did to the mayor's sister this year.
When it comes to running against a straw man opponent, particularly Obama, Vitter wrote the script in his 2010 re-election campaign. That was his first political outing after his sordid prostitution scandal broke. Thanks to Obama's unpopularity (and Vitter's deft campaign tack of ignoring his opponent and running instead against the president), the then-junior senator easily won re-election and emerged stronger than ever politically.
Since then, Vitter has worked nonstop to build a statewide network of financial supporters and legislative allies. The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision also allows Vitter's supporters to form a Super PAC and raise virtually unlimited funds to promote his ambitions. Vitter's opponents likewise can tap Super PACs, but chances are few candidates will be able to match his fundraising ability.
All of this is not to suggest that Vitter is invincible. Far from it. Starting this week, in fact, pressure could build for Vitter to skip the governor's race. With the Senate now in GOP hands, Louisiana needs Vitter's seniority more than ever. If he runs for governor and wins, we'll have two freshmen senators — and neither will be good for much if we get hit with another major hurricane or oil spill, not to mention south Louisiana's ongoing need for improved flood protection.
If Vitter stays in the governor's race, it will be interesting to see if he follows the Cassidy tack of running a "virtual" campaign. While many have forgiven the senator for his sex scandal, many more have not. Traditionally, candidates for governor traverse the state to appear at countless candidate forums to press the flesh and spread their messages. In the wake of his scandal, Vitter has kept public appearances to a minimum and under tight control. Whether he'll be able to run for governor like that is an open question — one of many at this point.
Equally interesting will be the efforts of Vitter's fellow Republicans to edge out one another and any Democratic opponents to land a runoff spot against the senator. While Vitter could have an easy time linking a Democratic runoff foe to Obama, he could be in trouble against a less polarizing Republican foe.
It's going to be a very interesting race, and it starts now.