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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards defeats Republican Eddie Rispone

Edwards’s victory is a blow to Republicans and President Donald Trump after earlier GOP loss in Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NEW ORLEANS (CFP) — Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards has narrowly won re-election to a second term, defeating Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

The win by Edwards in Saturday’s runoff gives Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, despite fervent interventions in all three races by President Donald Trump in states he carried handily in 2016.

Governor John Bel Edwards speaks to supporters in New Orleans after winning second term (WWL-TV via YouTube)

Edwards took 51 percent of the vote in the runoff to 49 percent to Rispone, one of Louisiana’s wealthiest businessmen who was making his first bid for political office.

“How sweet it is,” Edwards said in his victory speech to supporters at a New Orleans hotel. “You didn’t just vote for me. You voted for four more years of putting Louisiana first.”

Edwards is the first Democrat to win a second term as Louisiana’s chief executive since Edwin Edwards (no relation) won re-election in 1975.

In the other statewide office on the ballot Saturday, Republican incumbent Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin easily defeated Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.

During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone, who had tried to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he had split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Trump — who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016 — visited the state three times during the campaign, most recently on Thursday night when he implored a rally in Bossier City that “you’ve gotta give me a big win” by electing Rispone.

Edwards responded to Trump’s involvement in the race with a classic Southern putdown in his victory speech.

“And as for the president — God bless his heart,” Edwards said. “If this campaign has taught us anything, it’s that the partisan forces in Washington, D.C. are not strong enough to break through the bonds that we share as Louisianans.”

Rispone led most of the night as the votes were counted, but Edwards caught and passed him as the vote came in from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport, where the governor rolled up large margins of victory — more than 90 percent in Orleans Parish.

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 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.

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.

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Louisiana voters will decide governor’s race in Saturday runoff

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.”

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will face Republican Eddie Rispone in Nov. 12 runoff

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.

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Louisiana governor’s race heads to a November runoff

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards falls short of majority, will face Republican Eddie Rispone in 2nd round

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BATON ROUGE (CFP) — The Louisiana governor’s race will be decided in a November runoff after Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards fell short of the majority he needed to knock out his two Republican challengers.

Edwards will face Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, who came in second place in the first round of voting Saturday. The runoff is Nov. 16.

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will face Republican Eddie Rispone in Nov. 12 runoff

Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone and 24 percent for the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham from Alto.

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.

Six other statewide offices were also on the ballot Saturday. Five Republican incumbents won without a runoff, but Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin fell short of a majority and will face Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup in November.

With pre-election polls showing Edwards within striking distance of winning the primary outright, President Donald Trump held a rally Friday night in Lake Charles to rally Republican voters, calling both Abraham and Rispone to the stage.

The president and most of the state’s Republican congressional delegation did not take sides in the battle between Abraham and Rispone, focusing their fire instead on Edwards.

“Louisiana cannot take four more years of a liberal Democrat governor,” said Trump, who accused the governor of “taking money from open borders extremists.”

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 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.

A Morning Consult poll in June put Edwards’s job approval rating at 47 percent, compared to 33 percent who disapproved.

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 has poured in more than $10 million of his own money.

In addition to Louisiana, two other Southern states will hold governor’s races this year, Kentucky and Mississippi.

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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards aiming for knockout in Saturday’s jungle primary

Trump making election-eve visit to Lake Charles to rally Republicans and force Edwards into a runoff

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Unless pre-election polls are seriously off the mark, Louisiana’s Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will come out on top when the votes are counted in Saturday’s primary election.

So the two questions to be answered Saturday are whether Edwards can knock out both of his Republican challengers by clearing 50 percent of the vote and, if he doesn’t, which of the two leading Republicans he will face in a November runoff.

Governor John Bel Edwards

In Louisiana’s “jungle” primary, 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. Polls have put Edwards within striking distance of that mark, which would be a significant embarrassment for the GOP in the very conservative Pelican State.

In the clearest sign of Republicans’ concern about the outcome, President Donald Trump is holding a rally in Lake Charles on Friday night, even though he has not taken sides in the battle for second place between U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham from Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

Both Abraham and Rispone, who have sparred with each other and with Edwards during the campaign, have welcomed the president’s visit for what Trump termed “a big Republican rally” designed to leverage his popularity into forcing Edwards into a runoff against a single GOP challenger.

Edwards 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.

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.

A Morning Consult poll in June put Edwards’s job approval rating at 47 percent, compared to 33 percent who disapproved.

Abraham, 65, who is both a veterinarian and medical doctor, is in his third term in Congress representing the 5th District, which covers the northeastern corner of the state.

Rispone, 70, owns a building 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 has poured in more than $10 million of his own money.

Other elected Republicans, including both U.S. senators and most of the House delegation, have stayed on the sidelines in the race between Abraham and Rispone. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. have held rallies in Louisiana that both candidates attended.

In addition to Louisiana, two other Southern states will hold governor’s races this year, Kentucky and Mississippi.

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Insight: Are the politics of Obamacare changing in the South?

Cracks are starting to show in the wall of Southern opposition to Medicaid expansion

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

After Obamacare made its way through Congress in 2009, triggering the Tea Party rebellion, Republican-controlled Southern statehouses became a redoubt of opposition to what critics saw as meddlesome socialist overreach.

ChickenFriedPolitics editor Rich Shumate

When, three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration couldn’t force states to enact a key Obamacare provision — expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income residents — most Southern states took advantage of the decision and didn’t.

Today, nine of the 14 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are in the South, leaving more than 2.3 million low-income Southerners who would qualify for Medicaid without health care coverage, according to researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But there are some signs that the blanket opposition to expanding Medicaid in the South may be retreating, albeit slightly and slowly.

Louisiana and Virginia expanded Medicaid after electing Democratic governors in 2017. In Arkansas and Kentucky, where expansion passed under Democratic governors, it has endured despite their replacement by more skeptical Republicans.

In Florida and Oklahoma, petition drives are underway to put expansion on the ballot in 2020, doing an end-run around recalcitrant GOP leaders. And in Mississippi, a Democrat is trying to use expansion as a wedge issue to end a 16-year Republican lock on the governor’s office.

In states with expanded Medicaid, low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $17,000 for an individual — can get coverage. In states without expansion, the income limit for a family of three is just under $9,000; single people are excluded entirely.

Most of the singles and families who are not eligible for traditional Medicaid don’t make enough money to get the tax credits they need to buy insurance on the Obamacare insurance exchanges. According to estimates from Kaiser, 92 percent of all Americans who fall into this coverage gap live in Southern states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, including nearly 800,000 people in Texas, 450,000 in Florida, 275,000 in Georgia, and 225,000 in North Carolina.

The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion; states must pick up the rest. Republican leaders who oppose the idea have balked at making a financial commitment to such an open-ended entitlement, which Congress could change at any time.

But that argument didn’t hold in Virginia after Democrats campaigning on expansion nearly took control of the legislature in 2017. When expansion came up for a vote, 18 House Republicans who survived that blue wave joined Democrats to pass it.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who issued an executive order on his first day in office to expand Medicaid, is now running for re-election touting that decision; voters will give their verdict in October.

In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood is also making expanded Medicaid the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign this year, arguing that his state, with the nation’s highest poverty rate, is cutting off its nose to spite its face by refusing to extend coverage to people who would benefit from it.

In Arkansas and Kentucky, where Democratic governors managed to push through expansion in 2014, the Republicans who replaced them have left the programs essentially intact, although they have fiddled at the edges by imposing premiums and work requirements on recipients. (Federal judges have blocked those changes.)

Die-hard Obamacare opponents have not been able to scuttle the program in either state — even in Arkansas, where the program has to be reauthorized annually by a three-fourths majority in both houses of the legislature.

In Florida and Oklahoma, supporters of expansion — including groups representing doctors, nurses and hospitals — are trying to put constitutional amendments expanding Medicaid coverage on the ballot in 2020.

Those ballot measures will be a key test of whether the public mood is more sympathetic to the idea of expansion than are the states’ conservative leaders, who have argued that the program is unaffordable and discourages people from seeking employment to secure health care.

However, the strategy of pursuing ballot initiatives is of limited use in the South because among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, only Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi allow the public to put measures on the ballot via petition. Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina do not.

In Florida, the ballot measure will also need to get approval from 60 percent of the voters to pass.

The question to be answered this year and next is whether the fiscal and philosophical arguments against expansion will hold against the argument that low-income Southerners — rural and urban, black and white — deserve health care coverage and will benefit from it, in spite of its association with Obamacare.

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Legal abortion has become fault line in Kentucky’s Democratic primary for governor

State Rep. Rocky Adkins breaks with much of his party by supporting bill banning most abortions after a heartbeat is detected

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Rocky Adkins, the former Democratic leader of the Kentucky House, is among America’s rarest political species — a Democrat who opposes legal abortion. And that stance has become a clear fault line in the Democratic race for governor.

Kentucky State Rep. Rocky Adkins

Adkins is running in the May 20 primary against two Democrats who support legal abortion — Attorney General Andy Beshear and former State Auditor Adam Edelen — and the issue has taken on prominence not usually found in Democratic intra-party skirmishes.

“I am pro-life,” said Adkins, who represents a rural House district in eastern Kentucky, said during a recent debate. “You express the views of your constituents that you represent in the legislature for your votes, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Adkins is a member of the legislature’s Pro-Life Caucus. Earlier this year, he was one of 10 Democrats in the House who voted for Kentucky’s “heartbeat bill,” which would ban most abortions once the baby’s heartbeat can be detected.

That measure was signed into law by the man these Democrats all hope to replace, Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who has made his opposition to abortion a feature of his re-election campaign.

Edelen has denounced the new law as “an experiment by the radical right to eliminate this protection for women.” Beshear, who describes himself as “pro-choice,” has refused as attorney general to defend the new law against a legal challenge.

When the issue came up in a recent debate, Beshear observed that “the only person who is excited we’re having this conversation is Matt Bevin. This is all he’s going to talk about in the general election.”

A Pew Research Center study found that 57 percent of Kentuckians thought abortion should be illegal in most cases, while only 36 percent supported legal abortion. Only four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia — are more pro-life.

Pew also found less support for abortion among people living in rural areas than in cities or suburbs. Edelen is from Lexington and Beshear is from Louisiville; Adkins is from Sandy Hook, population 600.

However, the issue of abortion cuts across Democratic politics in Kentucky in a way not seen in much of the rest of the country. When the heartbeat bill came up in the House earlier this year, only a minority of the Democratic caucus actively opposed the measure. Nineteen Democrats voted no, 10 voted yes — and 10 absented themselves rather than cast a vote.

The abortion crosscurrents are also visible in the Democratic race for governor.  Beshear’s running mate, Jacqueline Coleman, described herself as a “pro-life Democrat” when she ran for the legislature in 2014 from a rural seat, though she now says she supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion. By contrast, Adkins’s running mate, Stephanie Horne, who is from Louisville, supports legal abortion.

Edelen and his running mate, Gill Holland, both support legal abortion, which Edelen has been using in the campaign to draw a contrast with Beshear and Adkins.

While the general election politics in Kentucky would clearly favor a candidate who doesn’t support legal abortion, Democratic primary politics are perhaps another matter. Adkins has not emphasized the issue during the campaign, has said he would “follow the Constitution” and has tied his opposition to abortion to his support for pre-K funding and bills to strengthen adoption and foster care.

“I’ve also said that we need to put warm food on the table and a roof over these babies’ heads when they’re born,” Adkins said.

Should Adkins triumph in the primary and then win the general election, he would join Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, who is running for re-election this fall, as the only Southern governors who oppose legal abortion.

Mississippi Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who is also running for governor in 2019, is also an abortion opponent.

The two other Southern Democratic governors, Roy Cooper in North Carolina and Ralph Northam in Virginia, both support legal abortion.

Cooper recently vetoed a bill that would have made it a crime for abortion doctors to kill babies born alive during an abortion procedure, saying a new law was not necessary.

Northam last year supported a bill that would have made it easier for women to obtain abortions in the third trimester, which failed to gain approval in the legislature.

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U.S. Senator John Kennedy won’t run for Louisiana governor in 2019

Kennedy would have been formidable obstacle to re-election of Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator John Kennedy will not run for Louisiana’s governorship in 2019, opting not to make what would have been a formidable challenge to Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards’s prospects for re-election.

“It is such an honor to represent the people of Louisiana in the United States Senate. Right now, that’s where I think I can do the most good,” he said in a December 3 statement announcing his decision.

U.S. Senator John Kennedy

The outspoken Kennedy also offered a blistering critique of the condition of state government back in the Pelican State.

“I hope someone runs for Governor who understands that Louisiana state government does not have to be a big, slow, dumb, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, spend-money-like-it-was-ditchwater, anti-taxpayer, top down institution,” he said.

“I love Louisiana as much as I love my country, and the people of my state deserve a state government as good as they are.”

Kennedy, who has won six statewide elections, was the most prominent name among Republicans considering the governor’s race, and his decision not to run is good news for Edwards, who is trying to win re-election as a Democrat in an increasingly Republican state.

The only Republican in the race so far is Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto has also said he is considering entering the contest and will announce his decision by January 1.

Kennedy, 67, was elected to the Senate in 2016 on his third try after a long career in state politics. He spent 17 years as state treasurer and served in the administrations of governors Buddy Roemer and Mike Foster. He switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 2007, while treasurer.

During his time in the Senate, Kennedy has become known as one of the chamber’s most quotable members, offering often blunt and colorful analogies.

He once described Facebook’s behavior as “getting into the foothills of creepy,” and after sexual harassment charges rocked Hollywood, said that he didn’t know how movies were getting made “because it looks like they’re all busy molesting each other.”

Taking issue with the practice of credit reporting companies to charge consumers for protecting their information, Kennedy said, “I don’t pay extra in a restaurant to prevent the waiter from spitting in my food.”

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards

Edwards, 52, won the governorship in 2015 by defeating then-U.S. Senator David Vitter, and is the only Democrat to hold a governorship in the Deep South. Kennedy was then elected to Vitter’s seat.

In the 2015 campaign, Edwards benefited from the unpopularity of the outgoing Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, as well as personal issues surrounding Vitter, who publicly admitted to patronizing prostitutes.

This time around, Republicans will make Edwards’s record the issue, including tax hikes and Medicaid expansion that he pushed through the legislature and a controversial program to reduce prison sentences for non-violent offenders.

In Louisiana, all candidates for governor run against each other in a so-called “jungle” primary in October, with the two top vote-getters advancing to a November runoff if no one gets a majority. The Republican field will most likely be competing for the second spot against Edwards.

Louisiana is one of four states that elect governors in off years. Neighboring Mississippi will also have a governor’s election in 2019.

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