A tightly contested gubernatorial election run-off in Louisiana on Saturday will test Donald Trump’s sway among conservative voters in the deep south as Democrat John Bel Edwards fights for a second term against Republican challenger Eddie Rispone.
The election drew the president to northern Louisiana on Thursday evening for a campaign rally in Bossier City during which he urged Republican voters to turn up to the polls on Saturday.
“This Saturday, the eyes of history are looking down on the great people of Louisiana,” Trump said, after spending much of his speech criticizing ongoing impeachment hearings in Washington. “It’s a close one. You gotta vote on Saturday. You’re gonna have a great Republican governor.”
Early Saturday, Trump tweeted support for Rispone saying he would bring down taxes and auto insurance.
The election marks the final governor’s race of the year, after Republicans achieved mixed results in other races in the American south, a region dominated by conservative politics. While holding onto the governor’s mansion in Mississippi, Republicans lost control of Kentucky last month. The incumbent Republican governor in Kentucky, Matt Bevin, finally conceded the race on Thursday.
The race in Louisiana, forced into a run-off after Edwards failed to gain over 50% of the vote in a primary election last month, has seen Rispone frame the election around national politics. He has sought to tie Edwards, a socially conservative Democrat who signed one of the country’s most restrictive abortion bans into law, to party leadership in Washington, paying little attention to Edwards’ state agenda.
Edwards on the other hand, has tried to focus the race on state specific issues. Touting his record expanding Medicaid in the state, that brought around 460,000 people in Louisiana health insurance, raising the pay of teachers, and moves to stabilize the state’s imperiled economy.
Recent polling has placed Edwards around one percentage point ahead of Rispone, a lead that is within the margin of error.
As with other successful Democratic campaigns in the American south, Edwards will be dependent on high turnout from African American voters. There was a small drop in the turnout of black voters during the primary last month compared with the 2015 election. This has lead Edwards to intensify outreach in black communities ahead of Saturday’s election.
But the Democrat must also reach across the aisle and win a portion of conservative white voters if he wants to hold office.
Rispone, a businessman and longtime Republican donor who has not held elected office previously, has sought to position himself as a political outsider in the same vein as Trump.
“This is bigger than Louisiana,” Rispone told the rally on Thursday. “We have got to send a message to these liberal socialist Democrats in Washington that we support our president.”
The election will also decide 24 state house seats and five state senate seats , which will determine whether Republicans seize a supermajority in the state legislature.