Louisiana’s Democratic governor forced into runoff
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ quest for a second term as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor will stretch another month, as voters in his crimson state denied him a primary win Saturday and sent him to a runoff election.
The Democratic incumbent was unable to top 50% of the vote in the six-candidate field, raising questions about his reelection chances against a national Republican offensive that includes President Trump. Trump made a last-minute appeal to Louisiana’s voters to reject Edwards.
Edwards will compete in the Nov. 16 runoff against businessman Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman and longtime GOP political donor making his first bid for public office. Rispone largely self-financed his campaign, reaching the second-place spot after outspending fellow Republican contender U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham 5-to-1.
“We’ve got a little more work to do,” Edwards told supporters Saturday night. He added: “My fellow Louisianans, we are not going backward. That is exactly what Eddie Rispone would have us do. He wants to put us right back on the path that led us into the ditch.”
Rispone said Abraham called to congratulate him on the race and immediately offer his support.
“With your prayers, we’re going to win. This is just the first step,” Rispone said to cheering supporters. “We’re going to turn this state around.”
Five Republican statewide elected officials on the ballot won reelection to new four-year terms: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin was forced into a runoff.
Trump praised the outcome of Saturday’s election and took credit for keeping Edwards from a primary victory, saying in a tweet: “The Governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, has done a poor job. NOW HE IS IN A RUNOFF WITH A GREAT REPUBLICAN, EddieRispone. Thank you Louisiana!” He said Edwards’ support fell “after I explained what a bad job the Governor was doing.”
National Republicans bombarded Louisiana with advertising and get-out-the-vote events to keep Edwards from a primary win, with Trump making a last-minute, in-person appeal to Louisiana’s voters. Beyond Abraham and Rispone, three other lesser-known contenders peeled off enough voter support to help push Edwards into the runoff election.
The Republican anti-Edwards onslaught is only expected to intensify over the remaining five weeks of the race.
“Prepare yourselves,” Edwards told his crowd. “Over the next five weeks, the partisan forces in Washington, D.C., are going to pull out all the stops.”
Republicans are seeking to prove Edwards’ longshot victory in 2015 was a fluke, aided by a flawed GOP opponent, David Vitter, who was hobbled by a prostitution scandal and attacks on his moral character from fellow Republicans in the primary.
Democrats want an Edwards reelection win to show they can compete in a state Trump won by 20 points.
But the 53-year-old Edwards isn’t a Democrat in the national mold.
The West Point graduate and former Army Ranger opposes abortion and gun restrictions, talks of working well with the Trump administration and calls the U.S. House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry a distraction to governing in Washington. He signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans.
Throughout his campaign, Edwards sought to make the election a referendum on his performance rather than a commentary on Louisiana views on national politics.