Jeremy Alford

At this point during the last open gubernatorial cycle, in the summer of 2013, then-Rep. John Bel Edwards was preparing to take his long shot bid for governor from zero to 60 in the following months. He already had parts of his team in place and was planning to hold strategy meetings in July and begin polling in earnest shortly thereafter.

Good planning, of course, led to positive results as Edwards became the only Democratic governor in the Deep South two years later. He ran a multi-year campaign and created a template that both Republicans and Democrats can follow in the next open cycle in 2023.

Each election is a unique event, but the quickly approaching race for governor yet again promises something different. There will be a larger focus on digital outreach and identifying early/mail voters — and we may see more candidate campaigns than ever farming that work out to PACs and dark money groups.

To that end, outside spending may potentially break expenditure records once again. The top candidates will certainly need some help in the primary. Political outfits on the right, like the Republican Governors Association, will be eager to play after eight years of Edwards, but with a large field of GOP contenders expected, groups like the RGA may have to sit it out until the runoff.

Who makes the runoff in 2023 is an intriguing question. Late author and journalist John Maginnis often explained to folks visiting Louisiana that statewide races in our open primary system typically yielded runoff candidates on the extremes — as in Mike Foster versus Cleo Fields and Edwin Edwards versus David Duke.

Yet as Louisiana continues to trend Republican, and as appreciation grows for the moderate approach Edwards took during the last open cycle, that runoff formula may be changing. For example, don’t place any bets you can’t cover on the Louisiana chapter of the AFL-CIO automatically endorsing the strongest Democrat in 2023. The union’s membership has grown more conservative in recent years and many members simply want a supportive governor.

Does that mean a Republican could make history by picking up the union’s endorsement? Louis Reine, president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, said it’s possible. “The membership isn’t beholden to a political party,” he said, “and members will vote for the best candidate based on their support of working Louisiana families.”

Some in the potential 2023 field are already making some unmissable moves. Last week, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser appealed to lawmakers and asked for additional money for early childhood education. It’s a strong issue for Nungesser, and one legislative appropriators have been accused of overlooking this session. The approach is noteworthy — Nungesser is becoming more confrontational than usual in staking out policy stances and there’s probably more to come.

Two other potential GOP candidates also locked horns earlier this month in a minor way via Twitter. Attorney General Jeff Landry, from his official office account, tagged Treasurer John Schroder in a post containing some professional advice. Landry wanted Schroder to join the efforts of treasurers in 15 other states where financial institutions are being warned they could lose state business if they bend to federal pressure to “de-carbonize.”

The Twitter nudge could have been overlooked as friendly advice had Schroder not met with family and friends just days prior to kick off the exploratory phase of his potential run for governor.

There will be plenty of Republicans to choose from in the race if it continues to shape up this way. The newest name in the mix belongs to Sen. Rick Ward, who is being encouraged to take a serious look at the race after the regular session is adjourned on June 10.

On the Democratic side, meanwhile, there are only questions marks. As reported in LaPolitics Weekly earlier this year, Sen. Gary Smith is thinking about a bid. Other Democratic names, however, will eventually surface.

There’s also a long list of Republicans who have been approached by supporters about running, but aren’t publicly making moves at this time, including but not limited to Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Chair Bret Allain, Congressman Garret Graves and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.

Is it too early to start campaigning for 2023? Probably not, given today’s political landscape. If anything, the hour may be getting a touch late for candidates with low statewide name recognition and just a few bucks in the bank. After all, as Gov. Edwards taught us, an early bird can indeed get the worm.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

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