Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is facing Republican Eddie Rispone in quest for second term
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Voters in Louisiana will decide who will hold the state’s governorship for the next four years in a Saturday runoff, with Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards trying to win re-election over Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
A win by Edwards in deep red Louisiana would give Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, handing an embarrassing defeat to Republicans and President Donald Trump, who came to the Pelican State Thursday to campaign for Rispone for the third time.
“You’ve gotta give me a big win, please. OK?” Trump told a crowd in Bossier City, where he said Edwards “double-crossed you and you can never trust him. He will never vote for us.”
During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone. Since then, Rispone has been trying to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.
Under Louisiana’s “jungle” primary system, candidates from all parties run together in the same contest, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the runoff if no one gets an outright majority.
Public polling in the governor’s race showed neither candidate with a statistically significant lead, pointing to a likely close result on Saturday.
One other statewide office will be on the ballot Saturday, the secretary of state’s race, where Republican incumbent Kyle Ardoin will face Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup in a rematch of a 2018 special election won by Ardoin.
Edwards, 53, is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which have played well in Louisiana.
As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf, although former President Barack Obama did make a robocall for the governor in the first round of the primary.
In 2015, Edwards claimed the governorship by defeating Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, who was bogged down by personal scandals and the unpopularity of the outgoing GOP governor, Bobby Jindal.
Edwards signature achievements in office have been expanding Medicaid, over Republican objections, and dealing with a budget shortfall he inherited from Jindal.
However, the tax increases imposed to deal with the budget have become fodder for his Republican opponents, who say the new taxes have driven business out of the state.
Rispone, 70, owns an industrial contracting company that has made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. While he has long been a major GOP donor, this is his first race for political office, and he poured in more than $10 million of his own money to surge past Abraham into second place in the first round of voting.
Republicans have pulled out all the stops for Rispone in the runoff, with the Republican National Committee committing more than $2 million to the race. Trump, who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016, has visited three times, and Vice President Mike Pence has also campaigned on Rispone’s behalf.
Louisiana’s governor’s race is the last contest on the 2019 election calendar and comes less than two weeks after Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was defeated for re-election by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite Trump campaigning on Bevin’s behalf.
Republicans had more success in Mississippi, where Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the governorship over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.