Louisiana race for governor intensifies, but the GOP front-runner brushes off criticism

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s gubernatorial race is intensifying as candidates take aim at Attorney General Jeff Landry — the Republican front-runner backed by former President Donald Trump — by calling him a bully and accusing him of backroom deals to gain political support.

Landry, confident about his campaign, said he was unbothered by the political attacks from fellow candidates. “That’s probably why they are in single digits. I’m not worried about what they say,” he said.

On Wednesday, Republican State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, the sole female in the race, and Landry, officially qualified to run for governor in the Oct. 14 election after filling out paperwork and paying a $700 fee — a procedural step for candidates that occurs this week, although most candidates have been campaigning for months. The two join a crowded list of those vying to replace Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is unable to seek reelection because of consecutive term limits.

Ahead of signing up for the race, Landry briefly spoke to the press Wednesday to outline his priorities as governor — the top one being addressing crime in urban areas. Louisiana has the nation’s second-highest murder rate per capita.

“Unequivocally we have a crime problem,” said Landry, who only took two questions from reporters. “I understand Louisiana and understand what’s at stake. Enough is enough. Crime knows no party, no race. Education is the same way and job opportunities as well.”

Landry has raised the profile of attorney general since being elected in 2015, using his office to champion conservative policy positions. He has clashed repeatedly with Edwards — the only Democratic governor in the Deep South — over LGBTQ rights, state finances and the death penalty. In addition, the former congressman has repeatedly put Louisiana in national fights including over President Joe Biden’s policies that limit oil and gas production and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

More recently, Landry has been in the spotlight over his involvement and staunch support of Louisiana laws that have drawn much debate, including banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths, the state’s near-total abortion ban that doesn’t have exceptions for cases of rape and incest, and a law restricting youths’ access to “sexually explicit material” in libraries, which opponents fear will target LGBTQ+ books. Hewitt also voted in favor of all three pieces of legislation.

Hewitt, an engineer and a former oil and gas executive who was first elected to the legislature in 2015, officially joined the race for governor Wednesday. The lawmaker is hoping to become the second female governor in state history. She has highlighted her experience holding leadership positions in historically male-dominated roles — specifically as one of the first women to work on an offshore drilling rig and as one of the first female executives in a major oil and gas company, Shell.

Hewitt listed her priorities Wednesday — among them being improving education. Louisiana routinely has one of the worst education rankings in the country.

“I’m running for governor to give families a reason to stay in Louisiana, instead of a reason to leave,” she said.

Hewitt also took the opportunity to criticize Landry, slamming his support of coastal lawsuits targeting oil and gas companies. In addition she criticized the Louisiana Republican Party’s early endorsement of Landry, calling it an “insider deal.” The endorsement was was made before any other GOP candidate entered the race.

“Up until now, everyday voters have not been paying attention,” Hewitt said. ”Jeff has proven he’s the best politician in the race, by gathering donors and insider endorsements ... but I’m taking my race to the voters.”

The governor’s race is not the only one being closely watched this election season. There will be five statewide offices on the October ballot with no incumbent running: governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and insurance commissioner.

Under Louisiana’s open primary system, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run against one another on the same ballot in October. If no candidate tops 50% in that primary, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election on Nov. 18.