An Early Look at the 2023 Louisiana Governor’s Race

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #90 | By: Ian Milden | August 21, 2023
Photo taken from: lailluminator.com

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Louisiana is one of three states to hold an election for Governor in the year before a Presidential election. This brief will explain the unusual dynamics of Louisiana elections and then examine the state of the open-seat race.

Analysis

Louisiana has an open-seat race for Governor this year since Louisiana state law prohibits Governor John Bel Edwards (D-LA) from running for three consecutive terms. He would be eligible to run in 2027 if he is interested. While an open seat race in a deep south state that votes for Republicans for federal office may not catch the interest of too many Democrats outside of the state, Louisiana’s unusual election system has helped Democrats win a few Governor’s races in the state.

Louisiana will hold what is called a “jungle primary”, where all candidates, regardless of their party affiliation, compete in the same primary. The structure of the jungle primary is similar to the first round of voting in Alaska’s new election system, which I discussed in a previous brief. The top two candidates advance to a runoff election. This year, the jungle primary is scheduled to occur on October 14th. The runoff election will occur on November 18th.

This system was implemented during the second term of Governor Edwin Edwards (D-LA), who is not related to the outgoing governor. Edwin Edwards’ first two terms as Governor were from 1971 until 1979. Louisiana prevents Governors from serving three consecutive terms, so Edwin Edwards could not run for reelection in 1979. Edwards calculated that Republicans would consolidate around Dave Treen in the 1979 election and that his own party would fracture and have a weak opponent against Treen in the runoff. Edwards thought that he could reunify the party behind him and win an easy campaign in 1983. Treen won the 1979 election, but he lost to Edwards in 1983. Edwards was defeated in 1987 by fellow Democrat Buddy Roemer due to the state’s financial troubles and Edwards’ corruption scandals. Roemer switched parties while in office, but he failed to secure support from within the state Republican Party, which resulted in voters dividing their support among several Republican candidates in 1991. Edwards was the only prominent Democrat to run, so he made the runoff. Roemer failed to make the runoff, losing the other spot to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Edwards won his 4th term in 1991 with help from some very unusual bumper stickers.

The clear route for Democrats to win statewide races in Louisiana is to have one prominent Democrat run against a field of Republicans and hope either a controversial candidate emerges or conflict within the Republican party prevents them from unifying around the Republican candidate who made the runoff.

The prominent Democratic candidate for Governor is Shawn Wilson, the former state Secretary of Transportation. Wilson stepped down from his position just before launching his campaign for Governor. Wilson was endorsed by outgoing Governor John Bel Edwards and Congressman Troy Brown. Wilson only entered the race in March, which gave him a relatively late start.

There’s also a large field of Republican candidates running for Governor. Among the candidates are Attorney General Jeff Landry, State Treasurer John Schroeder, State Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt, state representative Richard Nelson, and former CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry Stephen Waguespack. The state Republican Party caused controversy by endorsing Attorney General Landry, which sparked significant criticism from Landry’s rivals and Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungusser (R-LA), who is running for reelection.

Landry is likely to make the runoff election. Whether he makes it against Wilson or another Republican remains to be seen. I don’t think that the controversy surrounding the state party’s endorsement of Landry is enough to deter other Republicans from supporting him in the runoff. Regardless, I think it is reasonable to assume that Landry is the Republican front-runner and has a good chance to be elected the next Governor of Louisiana.

Engagement Resources

  • Shawn Wilson’s Campaign Website: https://www.wilsonforla.com/ 
  • Louisiana Democratic Party; https://louisianademocrats.org/
  • Democratic Governors Association Website: https://democraticgovernors.org/ 
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