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Sen. John Kennedy says he's mulling gubernatorial bid one week after landslide reelection victory

Vice President-elect Mike Pence campaigns with John Neely Kennedy, the Republican Senate candidate in Louisiana. Kennedy faces Democrat Foster Campbell in a runoff election on Dec. 10.
Ryan Kailath
Vice President-elect Mike Pence campaigns with John Neely Kennedy, the Republican Senate candidate in Louisiana. Kennedy faces Democrat Foster Campbell in a runoff election on Dec. 10.

Less than one week after Louisiana voters gave him a second term, Republican Sen. John Kennedy said Monday that he is seriously considering running for Louisiana’s open governorship in 2023, and promised to make a decision “soon.”

The announcement was accompanied by the release of a poll commissioned by Kennedy showing him as a heavy favorite in a crowded field of potential GOP contenders.

“I’ve spent my life and career serving the people of Louisiana,” Kennedy said. “But we can’t deny that our great state is facing serious challenges. To meet those challenges, Louisiana families deserve a governor who can lead our state and help solve our toughest problems.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards is term-limited and cannot run for reelection in 2023. The second-term Democrat is an aberration in ruby-red Louisiana and the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. It is largely expected that he will be succeeded by a Republican and the race is expected to attract a long list of high-profile GOP candidates. But Kennedy’s entrance as a well-funded, early favorite could dissuade some from launching their own bids.

John Kennedy secured 62% of the vote in last week’s open primary, securing a second term without going into a runoff against his Democratic challengers.

Kennedy raised $36.6 million for his reelection bid — more than 10 times the combined fundraising haul of all his Democratic challengers. His frequent appearances on cable news and his folksy one-liners have earned him a national audience and a broad donor base.

In the poll commissioned by his campaign and conducted by Torchlight Strategies, Kennedy led the field with 21% of the vote. Democrat Shawn Wilson, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, was second with 18.2%. Landry was third with 12.8%, no other Democrat secured more than 7%.

More than a quarter of respondents said they were undecided.

The poll also showed Kennedy prevailing in a one-on-one matchup against Wilson, securing 55.6% to Wilson’s 32.2%. Another 11.6% were undecided.

Wilson has expressed interest in the race but has not formally declared his candidacy.

So far, Attorney General Jeff Landry is the only Republican to announce his candidacy. Lake Charles Attorney Hunter Lundy, an independent, is the only other person to officially declare his candidacy.

Landy secured an early endorsement from the Louisiana Republican Party shortly after the official launch of his campaign.

The move was reportedly pushed by a small group of top party officials, including GOP megadonor Lane Grigsby and 2019 gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone. But many more criticized the endorsement as premature.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Congressman Garret Graves, Treasurer John Schroder and state Senator Sharon Hewitt are expected to wait for Kennedy’s decision before making their own. Nungesser and Schroder have privately confirmed their intention to run, but have not formally announced their candidacy.

Kennedy’s Senate colleague Bill Cassidy has also floated the possibility of a run. His votes for Pres. Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure bill and to impeach in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in 2020 make Cassidy an intriguing would-be candidate for moderates and Democrats who may not have a strong party standard bearer in the race. Cassidy told The Advocate that he will speak more about a potential run before the end of the month.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.