Republican losses in two gubernatorial elections — Saturday in Louisiana and a week earlier in Kentucky — show even President Trump’s popularity in red states isn’t enough to bail out deeply flawed GOP candidates, according to political experts.
Democratic incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards won reelection Saturday night, defeating Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, despite Mr. Trump holding two rallies on Mr. Rispone’s behalf and three overall in Louisiana in a month.
“This shows absolutely nothing about Trump’s ability to take Louisiana next year, but this proves that even in a majority conservative state, Trump can’t come in and rescue a Republican candidate if that candidate isn’t a strong one,” said John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based pollster and political analyst.
“Gov. Edwards did what he had to do to win,” Mr. Couvillon added, noting the moderate Democrat benefitted from high turnout from black voters in New Orleans and even drew some Republican support in the suburbs.
Returns also showed Mr. Rispone, a longtime political donor who was little-known when he launched his Trump-style “outsider” campaign for the GOP nomination, lost some of the votes another Republican, Rep. Ralph Abraham, had pulled in the October primary.
In Kentucky, incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin polled unfavorably and, like Mr. Rispone, was unable to capitalize on Mr. Trump’s support. He lost the race to Democrat Andy Beshear.
Mr. Trump had ramped up efforts in recent days on behalf of both Mr. Rispone and Mr. Bevin, holding timely rallies for both men on the eve of the elections.
Despite losing the gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Louisiana, down-ballot Republicans won virtually every other contest in both states — an indication that campaigns dictated by GOP figures in Washington, as Mr. Rispone’s was, may not be the best way to craft a winning message.
“The buck stops with the CEO, and no doubt Mr. Rispone has to be asking today if he got $12 million worth of value out of his campaign advisers and managers,” Mr. Couvillon said, referencing the amount Mr. Rispone used to self-fund his bid.
In his victory speech Saturday night, Mr. Edwards painted his winning campaign as a victory of Louisiana interests over Washington meddlers.
“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 Louisianians,” he said.
The defeats may also force Republicans to reconsider electoral strategies in 2020 as Democrats attempt to hold their majority in the House and flip the Senate. Understandably emboldened by their wins, Democrats launched fundraising efforts based on them over the weekend.
At a minimum, the Republicans will have to search for better candidates than they have offered recently, as flawed ones have cost them dearly in the Deep South.
Mr. Edwards’ reelection means he remains the only Democratic governor standing in the Deep South, and that he twice defeated GOP candidates — former Sen. David Vitter and, now, Mr. Rispone.
Similarly, the Republicans lost a Senate seat in reliably red Alabama by nominating Roy Moore, whose candidacy was doomed by allegations that he behaved inappropriately with teenage girls and sexually assaulted one.
• James Varney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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