john kennedy

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy

Baseball season ended a month and a half ago, but U.S. Sen. John Kennedy threw a curveball Monday that could have landed him the Cy Young Award. 

His announcement that he would not run against Gov. John Bel Edwards in the 2019 election changed the landscape for a ballot that seemed predictable, at least in terms of who would make the runoff.

It may have not surprised a few lawmakers and political observers, but the majority seemed somewhat surprised by the announcement.

My interviews at the State Capitol with then-state Treasurer Kennedy, dating back to 2013 when I joined The News, gave me the impression he had greater aspirations. He was critical of then-Gov. Bobby Jindal, his fellow Republican, over his handling of the state budget crisis.

Some thought Kennedy would throw his hat in the 2015 race, but he left the door open to U.S. Sen. David Vitter, whom – a bit ironically – Kennedy would replace in 2017.

The speculation seemed more defined after Edwards took office, particularly because the war of words about the the sales tax and other fiscal issues continued once Kennedy took office in Washington, D.C.

Many still wonder what led to Kennedy’s decision to stay out of the governor’s race. For yours truly, it would seem more suitable to ask why he would want to forsake a seat in the U.S. Senate in favor of governor.

Kennedy is in a lofty spot in Washington, one of only 100 senators and he only has to run for election every six years rather than four if he were to become governor.

But he was, for what it seemed, the ace in the deck of cards for the Republican Party. It became more obvious after House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and state Attorney General Jeff Landry – two other top contenders – opted against a run in 2019.

On paper, a race between Kennedy and Edwards may have been one for the ages. Judging from Kennedy’s popularity within his party and the support Edwards has from Democrats and some Republicans, it would probably would have ended in a single-digit margin and too close to predict.

The story for at least the next couple months will likely center on how many Republicans will run against Edwards. Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone announced his candidacy in October, while Congressman Ralph Abraham entered the fray three days after Kennedy made his decision.

Name recognition will prove the biggest challenge for Rispone, who never held a public office. Abraham, a veterinarian by trade, will need the support of his party and some deep-pocket supporters to help him build a campaign war chest at what most would consider a late stage in the game.

A victory by Abraham would give Louisiana its first governor from north of Interstate 10 since the administration of Shreveport native Buddy Roemer (1988-92).

Keep in mind another candidate may likely emerge, perhaps Republican state Rep. Sharon Hewitt, the District 1 lawmaker who serves portions of St. Tammany, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. As the two GOP hopefuls already in the race, she will need name recognition, but a district in the New Orleans area does not hurt her chances.

Kennedy’s withdrawal from consideration may have disappointed his supporters, but it certainly will not take away from the intrigue in the race. The one guarantee: Name recognition will come fast for any candidate who makes the runoff.

The months leading up to the primary election next October will be anything but dull.

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