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After avoiding opponents, Jeff Landry will take part in at least one gubernatorial debate

BY: JULIE O'DONOGHUE : Louisiana Illuminator

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)
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 has confirmed his participation in at least one debate in the upcoming gubernatorial race this fall, according to his campaign staff. Landry had previously refrained from joint appearances with other candidates in the race.

Brent Littlefield, Landry's longtime political consultant, indicated that the attorney general had always intended to engage in a debate following the closure of the candidate qualifying period for the governor's race on Thursday.

"Jeff Landry is going to debate," stated Littlefield in an interview on Wednesday.

However, the specifics of which debates Landry will attend remain undecided, and it is unclear whether he plans to participate in more than one. The campaign is currently reviewing various invitations and will make a final decision later this month.

Furthermore, it is uncertain whether Landry will participate in a debate before the October 14 primary, in which he faces six other contenders on the ballot, or if he intends to engage in a debate leading up to the November 18 general election, where he hopes to secure one of the two remaining positions. Notably, only one Republican candidate is expected to advance to the November runoff.

Among the candidates in the primary election are Landry, Senator Sharon Hewitt, State Rep. Richard Nelson, Treasurer John Schroder, and business lobbyist Stephen Waguespack, all running as Republicans. Additionally, former state transportation chief Shawn Wilson, a Democrat, and trial attorney Hunter Lundy, a political independent, will also appear on the ballot.

Despite Landry's significant lead in terms of funding and name recognition among voters, participating in televised debates remains a common practice for even heavily favored candidates in open gubernatorial races. Landry's current approach mirrors that of an incumbent, who often avoids debates, though it is less typical for first-time office seekers to do so.

Political experts have noted that Landry's substantial lead may lead him to allocate his time to other campaign activities, such as private meetings with civic and business leaders and fundraising.

"A candidate has many demands on their time," explained Timmy Teepell, the top political and campaign adviser to former Gov. Bobby Jindal. Although not directly involved with Landry's campaign, Teepell is set to oversee an advertising campaign supported by the Republican Governors Association to aid any Republican candidate who advances to the November runoff.

For months, Landry limited his public appearances to events where he could appear solo, without his opponents. He declined participation in several gubernatorial forums and routine campaign stops typically attended by statewide elected officials.

Among the prominent forums that Landry skipped are those sponsored by the Louisiana Police Jury Association, Louisiana Schools Boards Association, Louisiana Farm Bureau, and the Louisiana Federation of Republican Women, which hosted a GOP-exclusive event.

The Farm Bureau's long-standing tradition involves candidates answering questions posed by a moderator while standing together. While this arrangement typically attracts all major gubernatorial candidates, Landry opted for a separate appearance before a smaller crowd.

Landry did participate in the Public Affairs Research (PAR) Council of Louisiana's forum in April, where the format was adjusted to allow each candidate, including Landry, to be on stage alone with a moderator during their question-and-answer session.

At a recent West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce forum, Landry arrived late and refused to sit with other candidates, disrupting the event. He sought to address the audience outside of the Q&A period, leading to disagreements with the moderator.

In an unusual move, Landry avoided the customary press conference with reporters that follows a candidate's official qualification for a state election. Instead of entering through the front door of the Secretary of State's building, where the media awaited, Landry entered through a side entrance with the assistance of Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, also a Republican. During an abbreviated press conference, he selected reporters to question him and did not acknowledge others.

As Landry continues his campaign, it remains to be seen how his selective approach to public appearances and debates will impact his prospects in the governor's race.

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