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Sen. John Kennedy says he won't run for Louisiana governor

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
Former Vice President Mike Pence campaigns with U.S. Sen John Kennedy. November 2016.

Republican U.S. Senator John Kennedy will not run for Louisiana’s open governorship in 2023, eliminating the biggest name from the field of potential candidates to replace the term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“I have looked hard into my heart and decided to remain in the Senate and not run for governor,” Kennedy wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday. “At this juncture, I think I can help my state and my country more in the Senate.”

Kennedy’s potential candidacy loomed large in the race to replace Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.

Kennedy’s fundraising prowess — he raised more than $36 million for his senate reelection campaign — and the widespread name recognition he’s earned with his folksy one-liners and regular appearances on Fox News position Kennedy as one of the most recognizable and influential members of the state Republican party.

His decision to stay out of the race will likely trigger a series of announcements from other potential candidates. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and State Treasurer John Schroder — both Republicans — indicated to reporters and supporters that they intended to run but were waiting for an announcement from Kennedy to make it official.

Other potential Republican candidates include U.S. Representative Garret Graves, State Senator Sharon Hewitt of Slidell and State Representative Richard Nelson of Mandeville.

Bill Cassidy, Kennedy’s Republican colleague in the U.S. Senate, also decided against running for the open governor’s seat after briefly considering a bid.

Kennedy teased a potential gubernatorial bid in November just days after winning a second Senate term in a landslide, releasing a poll showing himself leading a potential field of candidates and saying he was seriously considering entering the race.

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 who has not entered the race, was second with 18.2%. Landry was third with 12.8%, no other Republican secured more than 7%.

Attorney General Jeff Landry is the only major-party candidate to officially declare his candidacy. With an early endorsement from the Republican Party of Louisiana, a robust fundraising effort and Kennedy now out of the race, Landry figures to be the frontrunner at the head of a crowded field of GOP candidates.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.