On the campaign trail with Jeff Landry, Donald Trump’s pick for Louisiana governor

Facing a sea of cowboy hats, fishing shirts and neon signs hawking popular beers, Jeff Landry, the leading candidate to become Louisiana’s next governor, strode to the microphone and delivered a message that seemed to channel former President Donald Trump.

Conservative values are under threat from every angle, Landry, who has served two terms as the state’s attorney general, told supporters packed into the Texas Club in Baton Rouge for a splashy campaign kickoff event. Landry promised he would be the one to protect them.

“We have stood with you, behind you, in front of you,” he told the crowd, hundreds strong, before a trio of country singers took the stage. “But more importantly, we have protected you. We have protected your jobs. We have protected our culture. We have protected our children.”

Landry has won admirers and gained detractors by seeking out culture-war skirmishes, while also finding himself embroiled in controversies that are more familiar to followers of Louisiana politics. He is by all measures the favorite to replace Democrat John Bel Edwards as the state’s next governor. He boasts endorsements not only from Trump and Trump’s son, but from the Louisiana Republican Party, which made an unusual move to anoint him months before the qualifying deadline, drawing the ire of the other GOP candidates and some party insiders. And he holds a massive fundraising lead over all the other candidates. He has avoided most debates so far.


Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry addresses supporters for his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday evening, August 9, 2023, at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge, La.

His words at the Texas Club Wednesday evening illustrate the appeal of a political ascent forged in the shadow of Trump’s presidency.

A hard-core conservative who has pushed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, sued Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration and moved to curtail children’s access to content with “sexual themes” in libraries, Landry offers a blend of populist charisma and awareness of the aggrievement felt by some conservatives that make him a compelling choice for Trump loyalists. 

“You tell me why every time they indict Donald Trump, his numbers go up instead of down,” Landry said in an interview this week, referring to the three separate criminal cases the former president faces. “In this state, not once, but twice, he has received more votes than any other person on the ballot. … I want to agree with Louisianians. I’m looking for that majority, too.”

New York state prosecutors have charged Trump with falsifying business records about a hush money payoff to a porn actress. In Florida, the Justice Department has brought more than three dozen felony counts, accusing him of illegally holding classified documents after leaving the White House and hiding them from investigators. And earlier this month, a federal grand jury indicted Trump on more charges for working to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the run-up to the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol.


Former U.S. President Donald Trump stops to take photos with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and his family who were waiting for Trump when his plane landed at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com)

Landry, like Trump, has questioned the validity of Biden’s electoral victory in the 2020 presidential race. Asked twice if he believes Trump is guilty of any of the crimes laid out in those indictments, Landry refused to answer.

He also did not directly answer whether he believes Trump won the 2020 election. Instead, he told reporters to watch “Rigged,” a film that contains a collection of election-related conspiracy theories.

“Here’s what’s amazing,” Landry told reporters at the Texas Club. “I was the only attorney general in the country to sue [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg over basically trying to wed the Democratic Party to the election system in this country, and there’s a whole documentary on it, and none of you all did anything on it.”

The candidate

At turns on the campaign trail and during a wide-ranging interview, Landry exhibited the retail political skills that have drawn legions of well-heeled conservative donors as well as rank-and-file voters into his fold. He talks of protecting “the little man.” He can put a crowd at ease by laughing raucously, shaking hands, slapping backs and showing off a surprisingly strong Cajun accent that evokes his rural St. Martin Parish upbringing. He is well-liked by staff, who call him “Jeff” and describe him as an unusually genial boss.


Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry speaks with members of the media before addressing supporters for his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday evening, August 9, 2023, at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge, La.

But his relatability has notes of aggression and grievance. Speaking Wednesday morning with staff at the Life House, a sprawling Christian rehabilitation facility in St. James Parish, Landry said the center’s work is the kind of pretrial program that should be emulated elsewhere.

But he was also quick to decry the bipartisan 2017 criminal justice system reforms that were championed by Edwards and passed by the Louisiana Legislature. Landry, who has linked the reforms to higher crime, railed to Life House staff that the efforts had in fact failed to reduce recidivism. Crime analysts largely say that while violent crime rose during the pandemic, the reforms, which focused heavily upon releasing non-violent offenders, aren’t to blame.

“We’re going to dig in and find that recidivism rate,” Landry told staff over a lunch of fried chicken. “You know why you don’t get those numbers? Because they don’t want you to have those numbers.”

Throwing such barbs has been a part of Landry’s political playbook for years.

He entered politics with an unsuccessful bid for state Senate in his Acadiana-area home district in 2007. Three years later, he waged a bitter campaign for Congress against fellow Republican Hunt Downer, where Landry and his Tea Party backers sought to paint Downer as a fake conservative. Landry won that election.

Rep. Jeff Landry criticizes Boehner for 'fiscal cliff' deal

In Congress, Jeff Landry frequently criticized President Barack Obama’s stance on the oil and gas industry.

As attorney general, Landry has clashed frequently with Edwards over topics like the death penalty, COVID-19 restrictions and criminal justice reform. Other gubernatorial candidates have accused him of strong-arm tactics. On Thursday, for instance, Republican candidate and former business lobbyist Stephen Waguespack claimed Landry’s staff has been intimidating donors to other campaigns. A Landry campaign spokesperson declined to respond to the allegation.

Landry takes issue with those who call him divisive.

He calls that label a product of unfair news coverage. His relationship with the press has been volatile: Landry sued a reporter for The Advocate | The Times-Picayune in 2021 over a public-records request she filed, asking a judge to deny the request and seal the proceedings.

“I think it is completely media- and opponent-created,” he said of the “divisive” label. “It’s a fictitious caricature.”

What would a Landry governorship look like?

Louisiana elections are famously unpredictable, and the idea that Landry — the consensus front-runner two months out — could tumble in the polls is not without precedent. Edwards, for instance, ascended to the governor’s mansion in a long-shot campaign that toppled prohibitive favorite David Vitter in 2015, even though Edwards was both largely unknown and a Democrat.

But at the moment, Landry is in the pole position. On Wednesday, he said his policy priorities as governor would be reducing crime, revitalizing the state’s education system and bringing new jobs.

He says he would reduce crime by “creating some transparency and honesty in the criminal justice system.” He gave examples, including a pair of bills filed in the latest legislative session. The first, which failed, would have made public juvenile court records in the state’s three most populous parishes. The bill stirred considerable controversy, in part because the three parishes are also majority-Black districts. The other measure, which passed, set up a tracking system for the State Police lab to process rape kits.

Landry offered fewer specifics on education and workforce development, though he expressed support for expanding vocational training in high schools. Asked if he would dismantle some of Edwards’ climate initiatives — most notably a plan to make Louisiana carbon-neutral by 2050 — the attorney general said only that Edwards has hurt oil-and-gas jobs, and that he supports controversial carbon sequestration projects.


Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry mingles with supporters for his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday evening, August 9, 2023, at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge, La.

He did, however, defend those who reject mainstream climate science, which states that human intervention is contributing to global warming. “This idea that it is solely humans causing variations, to me, is not grounded in actual evidence,” he said.

Though Landry takes issue with people who label him divisive, he makes clear that he views politics through a lens of winners and losers.

Last year, following a hearing on the state’s strict abortion ban, which allows almost no exceptions, he said that if people “don’t like Louisiana’s laws or constitution, they can go to another state.”

As for people thinking about leaving Louisiana over anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed recently by the Legislature, Landry called such arguments a way to undermine laws that have broad support.

 “I think all it is is an excuse, because they’re trying to cheat the system,” he said. “They can’t go to the Capitol, they can’t get the policy decisions they want. Which, quite frankly, just means you’re not in the majority.

“The minority doesn’t rule in this country, and in this state,” he added. “You know, they’re just trying to cut the line. We don’t want to be a cut-the-line kind of state.”


Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry addresses supporters for his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday evening, August 9, 2023, at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge, La.


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