Follow the money: Who are building war chests for 2023 Louisiana governor's race?

Greg Hilburn
Monroe News-Star
Louisiana State Capitol

Editor's note: The following is an analysis by Greg Hilburn, who covers Louisiana politics for USA Today Network.

It's never too early to set the stage for the next Louisiana governor's race with candidates eyeing the 2023 campaign posting the first look at their war chests.

With two-term Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards unable to run again in 2023, the path is clear for a wide-open race.

The deadline for annual campaign finance reports was this week.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, both Republicans, are widely considered near-certain entrants in the governor's race and both lap the potential field in fundraising.

Landry has a wide lead with $2.025 million cash on hand, while Nungesser is the only other candidate with a state campaign fund over $1 million with $1.46 million cash on hand.

Landry sent an email to supporter two days after Edwards' reelection in 2019 basically declaring himself the linchpin of the GOP in Louisiana, while Nungesser told USA Today Network he is "absolutely" considering the race on the same day Landry sent his email.

Though Landry and Nungesser have large early campaign cash leads, they aren't alone in considering a run at Louisiana's top prize.

Among the other potential candidates:

► State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, considered running against Edwards in 2019 before settling on reelection to her Senate seat.

"But what I've learned during this journey is never to close any doors," Hewitt told USA Today Network in 2019.

Hewitt is certainly looking at the 2023 race but hasn't yet committed. She reported $214,869 cash on hand.

► Republican Baton Rouge Congressman Garret Graves' name is always mentioned in the conversation for the 2023 governor's race, but his federal campaign fund can't be used for a state office run. That means Graves will have to begin raising money at least by early next year if he's going to make the race.

One prominent Republican who has taken his name off the board for the governor's race is popular Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain, who told USA Today Network he plans on running for reelection in 2023. "I've still got important work to do as commissioner," he said this week.

Edwards is an anomaly as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South and the only statewide elected Democrat in Louisiana, so the party will be searching for someone who can catch lightning in a bottle again, but that person hasn't yet emerged.

If Landry and Nungesser run for a promotion in 2023 as expected, that leaves the attorney general's job and the lieutenant governor's job vacant, and the jockeying has already started for those down ballot races.

State Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, previously told USA Today Network he will almost certainly run for attorney general if Landry doesn't run for reelection. Stefanski, who has hired a fundraiser with that race in mind, reported $99,651 cash on hand.

State Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said during a Zoom conference this week he'll likely run for lieutenant governor. Bishop reported $180,884 cash on hand.

Among others with potential statewide ambitions are House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales ($238,122), Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette ($326,909), and Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene, R-Baton Rouge ($135,965). All are considering their options.

Incumbent statewide elected officials Republican Treasurer John Schroder ($549,693) and Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin ($84,590) are expected to run for reelection, while five-term Republican Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon ($100,336) hasn't said whether he will seek another term.

So even if you think it's too early for a horse race, remember what Yogi Berra once said: "It gets late early out there."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.