Stephanie Grace: As congressional elections wind down, gubernatorial politics are heating up | Columnist Stephanie Grace

Who is Garret Graves, some New Orleans-area residents may be wondering right about now. Why is he featured in campaign ads on my TV, and where is he on my ballot?

Good questions all, for those not so politically attuned that they know the name of the congressman from Baton Rouge or focused enough on flood control or fisheries — two areas of specialty for the onetime state coastal czar — that they’ve followed his career.

Most voters in the New Orleans market are represented by either Steve Scalise or Troy Carter, who are both on the Nov. 8 ballot and heavily favored to win. So is Graves, first elected in 2014, who has a friendly district and faces only nominal competition.

And yet mixed in with all the ads for local and statewide races during the breaks in local news, viewers around New Orleans are also seeing a pitch for Graves. On the surface, it makes no sense.

That should be the first hint that there’s something going on beneath the surface.

Graves, who is quickly climbing through the ranks of the powerful Transportation Committee up in Washington, is also part of a quiet club of potential Republican candidates for Louisiana governor once Democrat John Bel Edwards completes his second and final term next year.

The state’s overall politics, as well as the common dynamic of voters seeking change at the end of any longtime chief executive’s tenure, make a Republican governor likely. What’s causing widespread indigestion, though, is the question of which Republican that might be.

The only declared candidate so far is Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is both a likely frontrunner as of now and the reason for that indigestion. Landry’s a niche politician, a combative culture warrior who never met a legal challenge to either Edwards or President Joe Biden that he wouldn’t gleefully pursue, and a very intentional divider.

There’s a big group of insiders — Democrats, independents and moderate, business-minded Republicans — who want to see a uniter elected instead. That’s a role that Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Treasurer John Schroder or some dark horse out there might play, although there’s a school of thought that beating Landry requires someone with more star power.

That’s where Graves, a business and environmentally minded politician with deep policy experience, could come in. And the commercials running far from his district sure suggest that he’s at least listening to those courting him.

The commercial itself isn’t a product of Graves’ reelection campaign but sponsored by the Delta Good Hand political action committee, according to journalist Jeremy Alford, of

Lobbyist Nial Patel, the PAC’S chair, explained the ads to Alford like this: “With redistricting and all of those changes, we wanted to make sure new voters were introduced properly to Garret and there’s nowhere else to buy but into the New Orleans market.” Graves’ district now extends down Bayou Lafourche, a rationale for buying in the New Orleans media market.

But it’s very expensive and Graves has little to worry about this year. 

The ads thus introduce Graves to potential voters in the gubernatorial election — you know, just in case. And Patel conceded to Alford that some of the PAC’s financial supporters hope he’ll run.

Graves himself has been coy about his intentions, given that he’s asking voters to send him back to Washington for two years as we speak. He’s also got a lot riding on the midterms’ overall outcome; a return of Republican control of the House would put him on a trajectory for influential committee leadership posts he might not want to give up.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is in the same boat, unable to even suggest right now that he’d seek a different office while asking for reelection, although it’s been widely noted that he’ll finish his current campaign with plenty of money that he’d be able to convert to a gubernatorial bid. His ads for Senate could also indirectly promote a future candidacy.

A third member of the club, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, isn’t on this year’s ballot; he could stake his claim to the anybody-but-Landry role early, and there’s a good bit of chatter that he might. Of the three, Cassidy would likely be most acceptable to Democrats, having brokered the bipartisan infrastructure bill and voted to convict Donald Trump at impeachment, but those actions would also make him unacceptable to at least some Republicans.

Landry, meanwhile, is pushing to get an early endorsement from the state Republican Party, Alford reports, although that field-clearing strategy has been tried before without success.

He’s certainly not going to clear this field without a fight. The question on the table right now is: from whom?

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