BATON ROUGE, La. – Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was pushed to a runoff election by wealthy Republican businessman Eddie Rispone on Saturday, setting up a head-to-head showdown on the national stage.
Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, was tantalizingly close to securing an outright victory with 46%, but now he’ll have to face Rispone (28%) and likely President Donald Trump in a Nov. 16 runoff election.
Rispone edged out fellow Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto to earn the spot in the runoff. Abraham was third with 24%.
Trump led a late campaign push to rally Republicans to force Edwards to a runoff election, where they believe the dynamics of the race will change with a single Republican to unify behind.
Trump headlined a massive rally Friday in Lake Charles urging voters to oust the Democrat.
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The president continued his barrage on Twitter on Saturday: “Louisiana, get out and vote REPUBLICAN before going to the big (LSU-Florida) game today. A runoff will be a tremendous win for your Great State – lower taxes and car insurance, and better protection of your 2nd Amendment! Fantastic being with you last night.”
He's likely to remain active during the runoff, perhaps even more so, testing Edwards’ assertion that Louisiana voters would resist nationalizing the election.
"I don't think Louisiana should be taking inspiration from the partisanship in (Washington) D.C.," Edwards said Friday during a preemptive press conference in Lake Charles. "I think Washington, D.C. should be taking inspiration from bipartisan work we've done in Louisiana."
But Rispone, who has poured more than $11 million of his own fortune into his campaign, is counting on Louisiana voters seeing him as the second coming of Trump.
Rispone kicked off his campaign with TV ads focusing almost solely on his allegiance with the president.
"(Edwards) is the only liberal tax-and-spend governor in Deep South," Rispone said during one of three TV debates during the primary campaign. "We have to turn this around. We have to fire this guy. We need our own Trump."
During the primary the state party, Trump and most of Louisiana’s congressional delegation refused to take sides between Abraham and Rispone, only asking voters to choose anybody but Edwards.
Now they’ll be unified behind Rispone.
It’s unclear whether Abraham’s voters will harbor enough resentment toward Rispone, who launched TV ads attacking Abraham to overtake the congressman for second place, to either vote for Edwards or stay home for the runoff.
Follow Greg Hilburn on Twitter @GregHilburn1.
This article originally appeared on Monroe News Star: John Bel Edwards: Democratic governor forced into runoff in Louisiana