- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 18, 2019

With fewer than 90 days before Louisiana’s gubernatorial primary, two of the three candidates report having more than $9 million in the bank.

Yet it’s the third, with less than $1.5 million, Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham, who is crowing the loudest about fundraising in the race to unseat incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“During the second quarter of 2019, Ralph Abraham outraised the entire gubernatorial field,” his campaign blared. “Compared to his Republican opponent, Abraham raised four times as much money from four times as many donors.”

To be sure, money isn’t everything, even in politics. But Mr. Abraham is also boasting about his own internal poll that shows him with a commanding 26-point lead in the race among the challengers to Mr. Edwards.

None of Louisiana’s longtime political analysts believes any candidate holds a 26-point lead in July. Indeed, traditional Pelican State wisdom says elections don’t really begin until Labor Day.

And the hard numbers show that, at the moment, Mr. Abraham trails his opponents badly in fundraising.

But the campaign finance reports also show in the Louisiana gubernatorial contest “fundraising” does not have its usual meaning. That’s because the other Republican in the race, Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, has furnished his campaign with two interest-free loans totaling $10 million.

Mr. Abraham has his $1.3 million on hand, after spending nearly $500,000 in recent months on social media buys and other events, largely because of who has put in charge of that job: Boysie Bollinger and Joe Canizaro, two longtime GOP fundraising heavyweights from New Orleans whose presence immediately gave Mr. Abraham’s opponents pause.

Dollars don’t know their source, however, Mr. Rispone’s campaign pointed out.

“The fact remains: Eddie’s $9.8 million war chest leads all gubernatorial candidates and is the most in the history of Louisiana at the 90-day deadline,” campaign spokesman Anthony Ramirez told The Washington Times. “It’s clear, Eddie Rispone is the Republican candidate best positioned to defeat Democrat John Bel Edwards this fall.”

Mr. Edwards cuts a unique figure: the lone Democratic governor in the Deep South, and while Mr. Rispone may lead all candidates he barely tops Mr. Edwards.

Driven in large part by Louisiana’s powerful and rich trial lawyers, Mr. Edwards had $9.6 million in the bank after spending $600,000.

Even more telling, Mr. Edwards 90-day filing comes as he is leaving a prolonged blackout period in which, as sitting governor, he was forbidden from fundraising while the state legislature is in session and for the 30 additional days he had to consider signing bills.

In other words, Mr. Rispone has given himself all his money while the incumbent has virtually the same following a stretch where he couldn’t raise any.

Mr. Edwards’ path to reelection is eased somewhat by the fact he is running this November, an off-year election in which he won’t face President Trump on the ballot. Mr. Trump remains popular in Louisiana, a state in which he beat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by 20 points in 2016 while capturing nearly 60% of the vote.

Unlike some of his partisan colleagues, Mr. Edwards has been muted in his attacks on the Trump administration, and during the recent rush of attention Louisiana garnered with Hurricane Barry the governor moved carefully to show he could work effectively with both Mr. Trump and the state’s largely Republican congressional delegation.

Mr. Edwards’ television ads have been the most visible of the three thus far in the state’s most populous areas from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, and in them he tries to position himself as a fiscally responsible moderate.

His opponents, however, hit him for the myriad tax increases Mr. Edwards has gotten imposed, though those have also been approved by a Republican-dominated Legislature.

That’s one reason Mr. Rispone touts his outsider status.

“Eddie is the only pro-Trump, conservative outsider in this race,” Mr. Ramirez said.

Louisiana has a jungle primary system in which all candidates run together and, should one of them fail to garner 50% plus 1, the top two vote-getters regardless of partisan affiliation square off in a runoff.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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