Louisianans voted to settle their contentious governor’s race once and for all Saturday, choosing between incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone in a runoff election that has drawn President Trump’s close attention.
Trump is eager to see Rispone regain the governorship for the GOP, particularly after Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin was defeated by Democrat Andy Beshear 11 days ago. The president put in a vigorous plug for Rispone on Twitter shortly after the polls opened, reminding locals to “Get out and VOTE for @EddieRispone to be your next Gov!” In another tweet, Trump provided a link to polling locations and said: “LOUISIANA, VOTE @EddieRispone TODAY! He will be a great governor!”
Rispone was not among the top-tier candidates GOP leaders hoped would challenge Edwards. The 70-year-old owner of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company had never run for office and had little name recognition. He hitched his entire candidacy to Trump, introducing himself in ads that focused on support for the president.
A FiveThirtyEight average of recent polls shows Edwards holding an average lead of about two percent. Should Rispone pull off the victory, Republicans would certainly hail the win as proof of Trump’s pulling power in the red state, which he most recently visited Thursday.
“This Saturday, the eyes of history are looking down on the great people of Louisiana,” Trump told rallygoers Thursday in Bossier City. “It’s a close one. You gotta vote on Saturday. You’re gonna have a great Republican governor.”
“I’ve known Eddie for a long time,” Trump added of Rispone. “He was a very successful guy, made a lot of money.”
“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 this week. “We can do for Louisiana what President Trump has done for the nation.” Rispone says he’s like Trump, calling himself a “conservative outsider” whose business acumen will help solve Louisiana’s problems. He’s promised tax cuts, without saying where he’d shrink spending, and he pledged a constitutional convention, without detailing what he wanted to rewrite.
Democrats, meanwhile, are keen to show that they can win conservative states with the right candidates, and Edwards is certainly a conservative Democrat. Edwards, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, opposes gun restrictions and speaks positively of Trump.
“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, according to The Associated Press. “That hasn’t changed, and that’s the way we’ve been governing.”
The Democrat highlighted his bipartisan work with the majority-GOP state Legislature to end years of budget crises, pass the first K-12 statewide teacher raise in a decade and overhaul criminal sentencing laws. He also hit Rispone for his support of unpopular former Gov. Bobby Jindal, saying Rispone would return Louisiana to policies that boosted state deficits. Edwards said Rispone’s proposal to freeze enrollment in the state’s Medicaid expansion program would force hundreds of thousands off health coverage.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.