Louisiana Governor: Jeff Landry Flips Seat for Republicans

by Erin Covey October 17, 2023 · 3:30 PM EDT

Republican attorney general Jeff Landry cruised to victory in Louisiana’s jungle primary on Saturday night, not only easily outpacing his 14 opponents but also securing the majority of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff. 

Landry will succeed Gov. John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. Edwards, a rare pro-life, pro-gun Democrat, had managed to defy the Pelican State’s strong Republican bent, and term limits gave Republicans a prime opportunity to take control of the governor’s mansion.

Louisiana’s open race had all the ingredients of a potentially competitive race — Landry is a conservative firebrand with a history of ethics issues, and Edwards’ wins in 2015 and 2019 gave Democrats a blueprint for winning through capitalizing on a divided GOP.

But historically low turnout, and Landry’s ability to consolidate Republican support, enabled the attorney general to win 52 percent of the primary vote. Democrat Shawn Wilson, the state’s former transportation secretary, came in second place with 26 percent.

The last gubernatorial candidate to win the jungle primary outright for an open seat was Republican Bobby Jindal in 2007 (Jindal also won the primary outright in his 2011 re-election bid). Landry’s victory was a surprise to strategists on both sides of the aisle, who had expected the race would go to a runoff between Landry and Wilson.

Unlike Edwards, Wilson did little to separate himself from the national Democratic party and attract the independent and Republican voters necessary for winning statewide. At the same time, he struggled to turn out base Democratic voters. Overall, turnout was lower than it was in the 2015 and 2019 races, particularly in Democratic strongholds including East Baton Rouge and Orleans Parish. In Orleans Parish, Wilson underperformed Edwards’ 2019 margin of victory by 16 points, and in East Baton Rouge, he underperformed by 19 points.

Meanwhile, anti-Landry Republicans were unable to consolidate around an alternative to the attorney general. Former Louisiana Association of Business and Industry president Stephen Waguespack came in a distant third place with 6 percent, followed by state Treasurer John Schroder with 5 percent. Independent candidate Hunter Lundy won 5 percent, and the rest of the candidates won less than 3 percent. 

Early on in the cycle, Landry had moved aggressively to lock down Republican support and establish himself as the fundraising frontrunner. By the end of July, Landry had garnered endorsements from former President Donald Trump, Sen. Bill Cassidy (who was at one point a potential opponent), and the state GOP.

Landry ultimately spent $9.4 million on the airwaves, according to data from AdImpact — more than all of his primary opponents combined. Schroder spent $2.7 million, Lundy spent $2.3 million, Waguespack spent $2.1 million, and Wilson spent $1.2 million. Super PACs supporting Landry and Waguespack also spent $3 million and $2.9 million, respectively.

In the final six weeks of the race, the Republican Governors Association spent nearly $4.7 million on ads attacking Wilson. Meanwhile, the Democratic Governors Association barely invested in the race (they sent $300,000 to the state party and made another smaller six-figure investment in Wilson’s campaign).

Ultimately, Landry won every parish except the four that Wilson carried (East Baton Rouge, Orleans, St. John the Baptist, and East Carroll).

Though Landry’s margin of victory was larger than expected, a Republican was always favored to win without Edwards on the ballot. With the Louisiana governor’s race over, both parties can focus their attention on Kentucky and Mississippi, two other red states with more competitive gubernatorial contests this November.