After avoiding opponents, Jeff Landry will take part in at least one gubernatorial debate
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, right, directs Attorney General Jeff Landry through the State Archives building prior to Landry qualifying for the Louisiana governor’s race Aug. 9, 2023. (Matthew Perschall for Louisiana Illuminator)
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry will participate in at least one debate during the governor’s race this fall, according to his campaign staff. He has avoided joint appearances with the other gubernatorial candidates up until this point.
Brent Littlefield, Landry’s longtime political consultant, said the attorney general always intended to take part in a debate after the qualifying period for candidates in the governor’s race closed Thursday.
“Jeff Landry is going to debate,” Littlefield said in an interview Wednesday.
Landry has not determined which events he might attend, and his staff didn’t clarify whether he’ll participate in more than one. The campaign is still sorting through invitations and will make decisions on which to accept later this month.
It’s also not clear whether Landry intends to participate in a debate before the Oct. 14 primary, against six other contenders on the ballot, or just ahead of the Nov. 18 general election, when he hopes to be one of the two remaining candidates. Only one Republican is likely to make it to the November runoff.
Landry, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, state Rep. Richard Nelson, Treasurer John Schroder and business lobbyist Stephen Waguespack are running as Republicans in the primary election. Former state transportation chief Shawn Wilson, a Democrat, and trial attorney Hunter Lundy, a political independent, will also be on that ballot.
Landry already has the upper hand over other candidates in terms of funding and name recognition with voters. But even candidates who are heavy favorites typically participate in more than one televised debate during an open race for governor.
The attorney general is essentially running as if he is the incumbent in this election. Incumbents can often get away with dodging debates — as U.S. Sen. John Kennedy did last year — though it’s unusual for candidates seeking an office for the first time to spurn those events.
Political experts said Landry’s commanding lead could make it such that his time is better spent on other aspects of the campaign, such as meeting with civic and business leaders privately or raising money.
“A candidate in Jeff’s position has a lot of demands on their time,” said Timmy Teepell, who was the top political and campaign adviser to former Gov. Bobby Jindal. “Jeff is being pulled in a lot of different directions.”
Teepell is not working for Landry, but will oversee an advertising campaign sponsored by the Republican Governors Association meant to support any Republican that makes it into the November runoff.
For months, Landry limited his public appearances only to places where he can appear on stage by himself and without his opponents. He didn’t participate in several gubernatorial forums that are routine campaign stops for statewide elected officials.
Prominent forums he skipped include ones sponsored by the Louisiana Police Jury Association, Louisiana Schools Boards Association, Louisiana Farm Bureau and the Louisiana Federation of Republican Women, which had a GOP-candidate-only event this week.
The Farm Bureau, which holds its gubernatorial forums every four years at its annual conference in June, has used the same arrangement for those events for decades. Candidates line up together and answer questions posed by a moderator, spokesman Avery Davidson said in an interview.
The organization has typically been able to attract all the major contenders in the governor’s race, though Landry declined this year. Instead, the attorney general came to address a smaller crowd by himself on a different day of the conference, when the other candidates weren’t present, Davidson said.
“We typically get all the candidates, even though our event is well before qualifying,” Davidson said. “What candidate is not going to want to get in front of 1,500 farmers and their families?”
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Landry did take part in the Public Affairs Research (PAR) Council of Louisiana’s forum in April, though its organizers configured the event so Landry and the other candidates would each get to be on stage alone with a moderator during their question-and-answer period.
Steven Procopio, the head of PAR, said his organization adjusted its forum’s format to make it more likely that Landry would participate, but also because PAR worried seven candidates on stage at the same time might prove unwieldy.
At a West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce forum held last week, Landry disrupted the event when he became unhappy with its structure. The attorney general arrived late and refused to sit with the other candidates.
Landry argued with a moderator over whether he would answer questions posed to him. He wanted to address the crowd outside of the Q&A period with the other candidates, according to three people attending the event who didn’t want to provide their names because they thought it might upset Landry.
While not a gubernatorial forum, Landry also went to great pains this week to avoid holding the press conference with reporters that typically happens after a candidate officially qualifies to run for a state election.
Unlike dozens of other statewide candidates, Landry declined to come through the front door of the Secretary of State’s building – where the media was waiting for him – to turn in the paperwork to run for governor. Instead, he came through a side entrance with the help of Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a fellow Republican.
He then refused to address journalists gathered after he qualified for the election, like most other candidates do, and would only give remarks before he signed up to run for office. At an abbreviated press conference, he called on two reporters who didn’t have their hands up to ask questions and then refused to acknowledge others. Other journalists who wanted time with him had to go to his large campaign rally and country music concert at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge on Wednesday evening.
A gaggle of reporters waited near his car to talk to him after he qualified for the election, but he avoided the media by leaving through one of the building’s other exits.
“Everyone knows who I am,” Landry said, when he addressed the media Wednesday. “Y’all have asked me just about every nauseating question known to man.”
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