- The Washington Times
Saturday, October 12, 2019

NEW ORLEANS | Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who had hoped to win a second term outright, now instead faces a November runoff against a neophyte politician.

Mr. Edwards, a Democrat, received 46.6% of the vote in Saturday’s election, a disappointing total that kept him below the 50%-plus-one threshold to win the Pelican State’s jungle primary.

Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman making his first bid for elected office, finished second with 27.4% of the vote after self-financing his maiden campaign with $11.5 million of his own money.

Those considerable personal funds let Mr. Rispone to outspend Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham and to launch an aggressive series of attack ads against Mr. Abraham in the primary’s closing weeks. Mr. Abraham took in 23.6% of the vote, the official tally Sunday showed.

With Mr. Abraham conceding defeat Saturday night and endorsing Mr. Rispone, it means Mr. Edwards will confront a united Republican Party — the two men combined for 50% of the vote — as he tries to hold his position as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.

“We’ve got a little more work to do,” Mr. Edwards told supporters in Baton Rouge. “My fellow Louisianians, we are not going backward. That is exactly what Eddie Rispone would have us do.”

Yet the election night crowd at Mr. Edwards headquarters seemed understandably worried as the night progressed, as many supporters thought he had a legitimate shot to win a second term outright.

What’s more, Republican candidates won landslide victories in all five other statewide races Saturday night, and the party made some gains to its already-strong majority in the legislature.

Long-shot Democrats Oscar Dantzler and Gary Landrieu, who Democrats worried could possibly siphon off some of the vote Mr. Edwards needed to get past the 50% mark, wound up taking less than 2% of the vote combined and were a nonfactor.

Mr. Rispone was jubilant.

“With your prayers, we’re going to win,” he said Saturday night. “This is just the first step. We’re going to turn this state around.”

Republicans accuse Mr. Edwards of using multiple tax increases to build a surplus in state coffers, and loosing Louisiana’s powerful trial lawyers on the oil and gas industry over lawsuits regarding coastal erosion. The heavier regulatory and tax hand means Louisiana has trailed most states whose economy has boomed during the Trump administration, according to the GOP argument.

Mr. Edwards, on the other hand, says he rescued the Pelican State from a crisis deficit and has presided over a period of overall economic growth in Louisiana.

Now, however, Mr. Edwards will not have the luxury of a fractured Republican opposition. On Friday night, President Trump appeared in Lake Charles with both candidates, and both Mr. Trump and the national party are expected to exert themselves in an effort to flip Louisiana’s chief executive chair back to the GOP.

Although he stands well to the political center when compared to national Democrats — Mr. Edwards has taken pro-life and pro-Second Amendment positions and votes — he remains a liberal in a state that Mr. Trump carried easily and remains popular.

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

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