Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, fell short of the majority of the vote needed to clinch reelection in Saturday’s all-party primary and will face Republican businessman Eddie Rispone in a one-on-one general election next month.
Edwards was unable to pass the 50 percent threshold; he received 47 percent of the votes cast, according to the AP, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Rispone, meanwhile, held off a fellow Republican, Rep. Ralph Abraham, 27 percent to 24 percent, to capture second place and earn a head-to-head shot against Edwards on Nov. 16.
The outcome of the primary sets up a potentially very competitive general election. While pre-primary polls showed Edwards with significant leads over both Republicans in possible runoffs, GOP candidates combined for more than half the vote on Saturday.
"Over half of Louisiana voters went to the polls today and cast a ballot for someone other than John Bel Edwards," noted Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, who added that Rispone "will unite Republicans and all Louisianans who want to build a better future for their state."
Edwards, a conservative, anti-abortion Democrat who’s avoided close associations with the national Democratic party, framed his campaign as for “people over politics,” a phrase the Edwards campaign painted on the side of his campaign RV. The state Democratic Party, meanwhile, sent some voters a robocall recorded by former President Barack Obama. The minute-long robocall featured Obama praising Edwards for expanding Medicaid in the state.
But national and state Republicans made a heavy push in the closing week of the race to hold Edwards below 50 percent. President Donald Trump held an election-eve campaign rally in Lake Charles on Friday night, standing alongside both Rispone and Abraham as he urged Louisianans to vote for one of the GOP candidates and deny Edwards the outright victory. The two Republicans also appeared at similar events over the past week with Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son.
Trump celebrated the results Saturday night — and took credit for preventing Edwards from winning a second term. Edwards, Trump said on Twitter, "has done a poor job" as governor, and he called Rispone "a great Republican" in all caps. He also claimed, without evidence, that "after I explained what a bad job [Edwards] was doing," the Democrat's poll numbers dropped from 66 percent to the 47 percent he received on Saturday. Edwards' highest vote share in pre-primary public polling was 52 percent, according to RealClearPolitics, a website that compiles public polls.
In a speech to supporters in Baton Rouge Saturday night, Edwards said he's "bullish" on his chances in the general election and signaled how he'll deflect the involvement from Trump and other Republicans.
"Over the next 5 weeks, the partisan forces in Washington, D.C., are going to pull out all the stops," Edwards said. "And there’s nothing they won’t say or do to try to win this election, but it won’t work."
But despite the unified front over the last week, both Republicans attacked one another on the airwaves and in the media. Rispone, a long-time donor but first-time candidate, sought frequent comparisons with Trump as a conservative outsider. He hit Abraham, a third-term congressman who did not have to risk his House seat to run in the off-year race, for his voting record and breaking a promise to donate his federal salary.
Abraham, in his concession speech, endorsed Rispone in the general election, according to The Advocate of Baton Rouge.
Louisiana is one of three states holding gubernatorial elections in 2019, alongside Mississippi and Kentucky. It is the only race of those three where Democrats are defending an incumbent governor and a top priority for the Democratic Governors Association.
Noam Lee, the DGA's executive director, previewed some of the upcoming attacks against Rispone. "Phony Eddie Rispone isn’t new to politics — he’s been a prolific donor focused on enriching himself and his cronies for decades," Lee said in a statement. "Now he’s running for governor to make millionaires like himself richer at the expense of Louisiana families."