Louisiana’s incumbent Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards narrowly defeated GOP challenger Eddie Rispone in a race that the national media framed as a test for Donald Trump.
Trump visited the state three times in the last month, looking to boost turnout for Rispone. But his efforts fell short as Edwards received 51 percent of the vote — more than 40,000 more votes than Rispone.
Edwards has presided over a good economy and falling unemployment, so it was always an uphill climb for Rispone to defeat an incumbent even in heavily Republican Louisiana. Plus, Edwards couldn’t be any farther from a national Democrat if he was on the moon. If liberals believe that Edwards is a harbinger of a radical Democratic wave in 2020, they will be badly disappointed.
Of course, the national media won’t see it like that. Edwards wasn’t running against a low-key, super-wealthy Louisiana businessman. He was running against Donald Trump and Trump lost.
Appearing before a packed ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge, Edwards delivered a rousing victory speech, vowing to keep fighting to raise the minimum wage, close the gender pay gap and invest more in early childhood education, which he called his No. 1 priority in his second term. After defying the best efforts of Trump to oust him, the governor in his victory appearance only once mentioned him, saying, “as for the president, God bless his heart.”
Edwards is on friendly terms with Trump, which kind of puts a gigantic hole in the liberal narrative about this race. No anti-Trump candidate won — that should be the story.
The anatomy of Edwards’ victory should be familiar: increased turnout of black and Hispanic voters and solid support from other Democratic constituencies.
Rispone ran as the “change candidate” which is ironic given the dynamic of the 2020 race, where an incumbent president and incumbent senators are running to stay in power. And Rispone’s lack of a clear agenda made Edwards’ job a lot easier.
Edwards, 53, was helped when Louisiana’s top-tier GOP officials decided against running for the seat. Rispone, the 70-year-old owner of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, had never run for office and had little name recognition. He hitched his entire candidacy to Trump, introducing himself in ads that focused on support for the president.
Rispone poured more than $12 million of his own money into the race. But he had trouble drawing some of the primary vote that went to U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, after harshly attacking Abraham in ads as he sought to reach the runoff.
Rispone also avoided many traditional public events attended by Louisiana gubernatorial candidates and sidestepped questions about his plans when taking office. He promised tax cuts, without saying where he’d shrink spending, and he pledged a constitutional convention, without detailing what he wanted to rewrite.
There was no overarching issue that nationalized this race. And if Democrats want to say that Trump was a loser, the fact that Edwards steered clear of bad-mouthing the president shows they’re only fooling themselves.