Since Sen. John Neely Kennedy was elected in 2016 -- no relation to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, let us assure you -- journalists have had a field day with the Louisiana Republican’s uniquely colorful rhetoric. The folksy-yet-quippish member of the upper chamber has sometimes baffled his spectators, who debate whether he is simply loose-tongued or, more enticingly, a 4D-chess-playing, mastermind media manipulator. As a result, a divergence has formed between local constituents and national onlookers about Kennedy’s public identity. Louisiana still sees him as its ambitious, educated ex-treasurer, while the national audience takes delight in Washington’s new boyish wisecracker.
But his method of communication has also vexed his state’s governor’s office, which has repeatedly issued tense clapbacks to the senator’s rhetorical hits. It’s also irked his political rivals, such as Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat who ran against Kennedy for the U.S. Senate seat in 2016. Campbell calls the senator’s rhetoric “cute” but “absolutely phony.”
“He probably didn’t talk like that when he was in England,” Campbell said about the Oxford University-graduated Trump supporter. “Trump has made a lot of that [rhetoric] fashionable. But the second Trump starts sliding, you won’t be able to find John Kennedy with a flashlight. He will be the first one who hits the deck.”
Regardless, Kennedy seems to have fun making national headlines with the one-liners he whips out on C-SPAN or broadcast cable interviews, including the recent NPR story on his spurring a Meat Loaf quote-battle on Capitol Hill. The senator has even prompted actress Lindsay Lohan’s parents to threaten lawsuit over a stray comment about their daughter’s alleged history of drug addiction. And whether one agrees or disagrees with his style, Kennedy is expected to be a formidable opponent against incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in the Louisiana governor’s race next year. (Both Kennedy’s office and Edwards' office declined to give comment for this story).
Here are some quotes, in no particular order, from the 66 year-old Vanderbilt and Oxford alumnus, LSU adjunct-professor, former five-term state treasurer and now-federal lawmaker since his 2016 Senate campaign last year:
Sarah Gamard has always needed writing and storytelling more than food. The undergraduate reports from Louisiana, a state that prides itself on being unlike any other in the U.S. The below-sea-level cities and laissez-faire politics make Louisiana magical, but also crown it with unique problems. Underfunded flood protection, an increasing budget shortfall and the world's highest incarceration are just a few factors that play into the state's famously dubbed "jungle politics." When Gamard is not in class at Louisiana State University, she's covering committee meetings and chamber debates at the state capitol in Baton Rouge. MORE FROM Sarah Gamard • FOLLOW @SarahGamard
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