Kennedy says he won't run for Louisiana governor next year

Kennedy says he won't run for Louisiana governor next year
© Stefani Reynolds

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said on Monday that he will not challenge Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) in the 2019 governor’s race.

"I love being in the United States Senate. I will not be a candidate for Governor in 2019. I will, however, continue to work hard every day in D.C. and Louisiana for jobs, economic growth, cheaper health insurance, a stronger military, and an end to government waste," Kennedy said in a statement Monday.

He added that "it is such an honor to represent the people of Louisiana in the United States Senate. Right now, that’s where I think I can do the most good."

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Kennedy's decision ends months-long speculation about whether he would try to unseat Edwards, who handed Democrats their only deep-South governorship when he defeated then-Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterLouisiana congressman to challenge Dem Gov Kennedy says he won't run for Louisiana governor next year Dems face tough road ahead in Deep South MORE (R) in 2015.

His decision to pass on the race is a surprise since he's been locked in a war of words with Edwards over everything from criminal justice reform to the state’s Medicaid expansion, leading political pundits and fellow Republicans to believe he would enter the race.

Businessman Eddie Rispone — who said he’ll self-fund his campaign with at least $5 million, according to the Monroe News Star — is the only Republican gubernatorial candidate. But Rep. Ralph Abraham has hinted that he's likely to enter the GOP primary.

"If I had to make a decision today, it would be that I was running," Abraham told the Louisiana publication last week.

Republicans have warned about trying to avoid a repeat of 2015, when Vitter and the party went through a bloody primary, only to lose handily to Edwards.
 
Kennedy, in his Monday statement, said he hopes a candidate emerges who "understands that Louisiana state government does not have to be a big, slow, dumb, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, spend-money-like-it-was-ditchwater, anti-taxpayer, top down institution" 
 
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The senator's decision comes after Democrats began taking shots at him. A Kennedy-Edwards matchup would have been the 2019's marquee gubernatorial fight as Republicans try to take back the state's top spot.

Gumbo PAC, a pro-Edwards outside group, hit Kennedy in a digital ad arguing that Kennedy “talks and talks and talks,” but “Louisiana has a governor that gets things done.”

American Bridge, a Democratic outside group, termed him “senator soundbite,” comparing him to former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and arguing that he “craves national attention.”

“John Kennedy’s two years in the Senate: 100 media interviews, 0 accomplishments. Now Senator Soundbite is thinking of asking for a promotion to be governor,” the group said in a tweet last week.

Edwards took a parting shot at Kennedy in the wake of his announcement on Monday, saying talk of the GOP senator running for governor was "about focusing the spotlight on himself."
 
"Now that this is behind us, my hope is that he will make it a priority to work together with me and the entire congressional delegation to get things done for the hardworking families of this state," Edwards said.
 
Kennedy joined the Senate in 2017, making him the least senior GOP senator until Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) joined this year.
 
But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a favorite of the Washington press corps, where he’s viewed as the most quotable senator, by dishing out colorful turns of phrases and being willing to hold court with reporters in the Senate basement.
 
He once described Trump as a “hard dog to keep on the porch,” after the president fired Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonAxelrod: Trump's Tillerson insults 'continue a disturbing portrait' Overnight Defense: Nauert tapped for UN envoy | Trump teases changes to Joint Chiefs of Staff | Trump knocks Tillerson as 'dumb as a rock' | Scathing report details Air Force failures before Texas shooting Trump: Tillerson 'dumb as a rock' MORE. During the middle of the 2017 tax bill fight, Kennedy lamented that politics can be dramatic but “everyone up here has politics in his blood. Kind of like herpes." And he’s come up with unique descriptions for his colleagues, once referring to the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCohen’s pleas concocted by prosecutors to snare Trump Overnight Defense: Senate Armed Services chair eyes Russia, China threats | Pushes Trump not to cut defense budget | Mattis says US looking for more Khashoggi evidence Dem strategist says Trump should not have attended George H.W. Bush's funeral MORE (R-Ariz.) as “tough as a boiled owl” and saying Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCornyn opens door to including criminal justice bill in government funding measure The Hill's Morning Report — Trump shakes up staff with eye on 2020, Mueller probe Judd Gregg: The government goes geriatric MORE (R-Ky.) was “mad as a mamma wasp” over judicial nominations.
 
But his penchant for talking has at times put him at odds with GOP leadership.
 
A 2017 exchange he had during a Judiciary Committee hearing with Trump judicial nominee Matthew Spencer Petersen went viral as Petersen struggled to answer Kennedy’s questions. And he broke the news to reporters in September that Christine Blasey Ford and then-Supreme Court nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — Supreme Court sides with Planned Parenthood, declines to take funding case | NIH to fund research into fetal tissue alternatives | Oklahoma seeks Trump approval for Medicaid work requirements Time fumbles another 'Person of the Year' by excluding Kavanaugh Trump, Mueller both make Time 'Person of the Year' shortlist MORE would get the chance to testify publicly, quipping, after realizing what he he’d done, that GOP leadership was going to “move my office to Richmond.”
 
Kennedy previously ran for the Senate twice unsuccessfully, including as a Democrat in 2004. He switched his party affiliation to the GOP in 2007 and made a second unsuccessful Senate bid in 2008.
 
He also served as state treasurer from 2000 to 2017.
 
Updated at 10:40 a.m.