Danae Columbus: How will President Trump’s politics play in Louisiana governor’s race?

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Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

As President Trump and Melania travel today to the G-20 Summit in Argentina and a one-on-one meeting with Putin, he will be plotting how to stay close to his imaginary friends like Saudi Arabia and Paul Manafort and continue to create havoc for his current perceived enemies including humiliated Detroit automakers, thousands of poor immigrants crowded at the Mexican border, and the Chinese who are blamed with repeatedly stealing American technology and intellectual property. In the meantime business leaders nationwide and in New Orleans have been calling for an end to the trade wars and stability of interest rates which had affected the markets.

Closely watching all these developments is Louisiana’s freshman U.S. Senator John Kennedy who is primed to announce his candidacy for Governor against John Bel Edwards. Yesterday evening respected pollster Bernie Pinsonat refused to reveal the specifics of his new poll on the race, which will be released today. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to assume that Kennedy is extremely popular with urban and rural voters which will make him a tough competitor for the Deep South’s only Democratic governor.

Tuesday’s lopsided racially-charged Republican Senate victory by Trump-supported Cindy Hyde-Smith against Obama-supported African-American Mike Epsy is just another indication that President Trump is still a big vote getter. Part of Espy’s defeat was due to his inability to deliver large numbers of African-American voters to the polls in a state which has a greater proportion of African-American voters than any other. Kennedy has been loyal to Trump and spoke out for Judge Kavanaugh. The President would naturally want to support him by appearing at rallies, recording robo-calls and/or commercials and maybe even preparing direct mail.

Edwards had a unique ability to build a winning coalition four years ago with his West Point, pro-gun, anti-abortion agenda against a much-damaged Republican candidate. Pundits believe that many voters went with Edwards because of David Vitter’s obvious liabilities. African-American voters, other minorities and urban white Democrats in the New Orleans area turned out in big numbers for Edwards. Except for Cedric Richmond, the other members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation are white. Clearly white voters outside of New Orleans are electing Republicans time and time again. Rural voters nationally are connecting with President Trump and his policies.

Edwards will need to reach every African-American and other minority voters, plus every urban white Democrat he can get his hands on. He’ll have to go after better-educated suburban voters as well – folks who recently voted Republican but are not happy with Trump’s policies and rhetoric. This is the new coalition that brought the Democrats back in power in Congress. Edwards will have to take a page from that playbook.

Kennedy has been having a great time in Washington delivering pithy one-liners to the adorning national media who are always looking for a good sound bite. He’s developed positions on all the major issues of the day. He’s enjoyed the opportunity to speak in Louisiana and in D.C. on a myriad of subjects. Kennedy has become a minor national celebrity because people everywhere love his unique but often corny down-home style. He knows what parts of POTUS’ message work for him in Louisiana. But as a first-term Senator, he has yet to earn leadership opportunities and key committee appointments that only come with years of service. At age 67, the Oxford-educated Kennedy does not have the luxury of time.

That’s why running for Governor of Louisiana is a perfect fit for Kennedy. It is a free election in that he does not impact his Senate seat. Kennedy already has a considerable war chest that will only be filled even more but willing lobbyists, national political action committees, and loyal Trump supporters around the country. He could raise a million dollars online from small conservative donors around the country. The state’s demographics also work for him – mostly white and mostly working-class.

Edwards has had a tough three years as governor. He has fought a Republican-led legislature; he had to clean up the mess Bobby Jindal left behind; he has to deal with a plethora of budget problems along with hurricanes, floods and a serious shooting in Baton Rouge. Still, Edwards is resilient. He will call in all his chits, especially from local elected officials he has helped along the way. When the governor’s race started four years ago, few thought he could win. Next year’s battle against a strong contender rather than a damaged one will be a much tougher fight and a clear test of Republican versus Democratic strength in Louisiana.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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