Trump Can’t Get Republican Over Line in La. Gov’s. Race; Dem Wins

‘They talk about I’m some sort of a radical liberal. The people of Louisiana know better than that…’

Dem Governor Faces Backlash After Signing 15-Week Abortion Ban

John Bel Edwards (screen shot: NOLA.com/Youtube)

(Liberty Headlines) Incumbent Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards staved off a Republican challenge to narrowly win a second term Saturday.

Edwards is currently the Deep South’s only Democratic governor but has largely governed from the Right on many issues, including the state’s robust economic growth, much of which is based around the oil industry.

With other issues including his support for a fetal heartbeat law—effectively banning many abortions in the state—he incurred the wrath of many a Left-coast liberal but remained the best hope Democrats had of maintaining a seat of power in the solid red state.

Some Democrats are hopeful that with his veto power to reject the state legislative map during the next round of redistricting, Edwards may join in the nationwide effort—being led by former Attorney General Eric Holder—to use courts and other mechanisms to forcibly gerrymander red states into yielding some of their political power.

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In the heart of Trump country, the moderate Edwards cobbled together enough cross-party support with his focus on bipartisan, state-specific issues to defeat Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, getting about 51% of the vote.

The runoff election comes not long after a defeat in the Kentucky governor’s race and sizable—but expected—losses in Virginia’s legislative races where Holder and several Democrat mega-donors had invested considerable time and effort to permanently flip the state.

However, other special elections have swung in favor of the president, such as the September race to fill an open congressional seat that went to former GOP state Sen. Dan Bishop, a staunch Trump advocate who face a Democrat opponent with a considerable fundraising advantage in a newly redrawn district.

Trump fought to return the top Louisiana seat to the GOP, making three trips to Louisiana to rally against Edwards.

On Saturday, the president went on Twitter in a vigorous plug for Rispone., but could not overcome the power of incumbency for a governor who has largely avoided any left-wing overreaches or missteps.

The president’s attention appeared not only to have motivated conservative Republicans, but also powered a surge in anti-Trump and black voter turnout that helped Edwards.

In a victory rally of his own late Saturday, Edwards thanked supporters who danced, sang and cheered in celebration, while he declared, “How sweet it is!”

He added, “And as for the president, God bless his heart”—a phrase often used by genteel Southerners to politely deprecate someone.

“Tonight the people of Louisiana have chosen to chart their own path,” Edwards said.

As he conceded the race, Rispone called on supporters to give a round of applause for Trump, saying: “That man loves America and he loves Louisiana.”

Rebuking the Progressive Fringes

Democrats—now including former President Barack Obama—who argue that nominating a moderate presidential candidate is the best approach to beat Trump are certain to say Louisiana’s race bolsters their case.

Edwards, a West Point graduate, opposes gun restrictions, signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans and dismissed the impeachment effort as a distraction.

Still, while Rispone’s loss raises questions about the strength of Trump’s coattails, its relevance to his reelection chances are less clear. Louisiana is expected to easily back Trump next year, and Edwards’ views in many ways are out of step with his own party.

In the final days as polls showed Edwards with momentum, national Republicans beefed up assistance for Rispone. That wasn’t enough to boost the GOP contender, who wasn’t among the top-tier candidates Republican leaders hoped would challenge Edwards as they sought to prove that the Democrat’s longshot victory in 2015 was a fluke.

He had ties to unpopular former Gov. Bobby Jindal and offered few details about his agenda. Edwards also proved to be a formidable candidate, with a record of achievements.

Working with the majority-Republican Legislature, Edwards stabilized state finances with a package of tax increases, ending the deficit-riddled years of Jindal. New money paid for investments in public colleges and the first statewide teacher raise in a decade.

Edwards expanded Louisiana’s Medicaid program, lowering the state’s uninsured rate below the national average. A bipartisan criminal sentencing law rewrite he championed ended Louisiana’s tenure as the nation’s top jailer.

Rispone, the 70-year-old owner of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, hitched his entire candidacy to Trump, introducing himself to voters in ads that focused on support for the president in a state Trump won by 20 percentage points.

But the 53-year-old Edwards, a former state lawmaker and former Army Ranger from rural Tangipahoa Parish, reminded voters that he’s a Louisiana Democrat, with political views that sometimes don’t match his party’s leaders.

“They talk about I’m some sort of a radical liberal. The people of Louisiana know better than that. I am squarely in the middle of the political spectrum,” Edwards said. “That hasn’t changed, and that’s the way we’ve been governing.”

Rispone said he was like Trump, describing himself as a “conservative outsider” whose business acumen would help solve the state’s problems.

“We want Louisiana to be No. 1 in the South when it comes to jobs and opportunity. We have to do something different,” Rispone said. “We can do for Louisiana what President Trump has done for the nation.”

The president’s repeated visits appeared to drive turnout for both candidates.

Tour guide Andrea Hartman, 40, cast her ballot for Edwards in New Orleans.

“I do not agree with what Rispone advocates,” she said. “I also don’t want Trump coming here and telling me who to vote for.”

Rispone poured more than $12 million of his own money into the race. But he had trouble drawing some of the primary vote that went to Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, after harshly attacking Abraham in ads as he sought to reach the runoff.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of. We had over 700,000 people in Louisiana who really want something better, something different,” Rispone said.

Rispone also avoided many traditional public events attended by Louisiana gubernatorial candidates and sidestepped questions about his plans. He promised tax cuts, without saying where he’d shrink spending, and he pledged a constitutional convention, without detailing what he wanted to rewrite.

Both parties spent millions on attack ads and get-out-the-vote work, on top of at least $36 million spent by candidates.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press