Louisiana Reelects Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards

In what many are seeing as a rebuke of the President, Louisiana voters re-elected Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards over his Republican opponent.

Republicans had invested heavily in yesterday’s runoff election in Louisiana between incumbent Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and Republican nominee Eddie Rispone, including two visits from President Trump in the last ten days and three overall during the course of the election. Despite that, the polling prior to the final stage of the election showed a close race between the two candidates, with Edwards maintaining a slight lead over political neophyte Rispone right up until the eve of the election. Given the fact that the Pelican State is a heavily Republican state, and factoring in the President’s contribution to the get out the vote effort, though, many analysts thought that Rispone would pull off a win. In the end, though, Edwards ended up narrowly defeating his Republican opponent just as he had done four years ago:

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was elected to a second term on Saturday, overcoming opposition from President Trump and an increasingly polarized state electorate to hand Democrats their second major victory in a governor’s race over the past two weeks.

Edwards, 53, was running against Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, 70, in a runoff election after neither candidate won an outright majority of votes last month.

The Associated Press declared Edwards the winner at about 10 p.m. local time. He defeated Rispone with about 51 percent of the vote, leading by roughly 40,000 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast.

“How sweet it is,” Edwards told a crowd of cheering supporters at a victory rally late Saturday at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge.

Edwards said he had spoken with Rispone earlier in the evening. “We both agreed that the time for campaigning is over,” he said, “and now our shared love for Louisiana is always more important than the partisan differences that sometimes divide us.”

“And as for the president, God bless his heart,” Edwards added mockingly.

\Edwards’s victory is another setback for Trump, who traveled to Louisiana twice over the past month to campaign for Rispone and sent a series of tweets urging Republicans to vote. The president’s popularity in the South has failed to prop up GOP candidates in two of the three states that held gubernatorial elections this year, allowing Democrats to gain governorships for the third consecutive year.

In Kentucky, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear unseated Republican Gov. Matt Bevin this month. In January, 24 of the nation’s governors will be Democrats, up from 15 at the end 2017.

Rispone told supporters in a speech Saturday night he was disappointed to lose the race. He thanked Trump for coming to the state to help his campaign and called on the crowd to give the president a round of applause. “That man loves America and he loves Louisiana,” Rispone said.

The Louisiana election caps off a grueling campaign in which Edwards, a relatively conservative Democrat, worked to prove his party could still lead a state that has continued to drift to the right in the Trump era.

Edwards was forced into a runoff with Republican challenger Rispone, who has made his allegiance to Trump a centerpiece of his campaign, after the governor failed to win a majority in Louisiana’s bipartisan “jungle” primary last month.

Edwards received about 47 percent of the vote in the primary, with Rispone finishing second after he edged past the third-place finisher, Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Throughout the primary campaign, Edwards expressed confidence that he could win a majority and avoid a runoff. But on the night before the Oct. 12 primary, Trump traveled to Lake Charles, La., to campaign for Rispone and Abraham, a move analysts said helped drive up Republican turnout.

The president made another pitch for Rispone on Saturday.

“Louisiana, 3 hours left, get out and Vote for @EddieRispone for Governor,” he tweeted. “Lower taxes and much more!”

More from NoLa,com:

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards claimed a second term Saturday, winning a stunning victory in a heavily Republican state and beating back repeated attacks by President Donald Trump in a race closely watched nationwide.

Edwards defeated Republican businessman Eddie Rispone with about 51% of the vote, polling 40,341 ballots more than his opponent out of more than 1.5 million cast. Edwards received 774,469 votes and Rispone received 734,128, according to complete but unofficial returns. Slightly more than half, 50.7%, of the state’s 2.97 million registered voters participated.

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.”

“Tonight, the people of Louisiana have chosen to chart their own path,” Edwards said. “I have never been more hopeful that Louisiana’s best days are ahead. Because we’ve proven what we can do when we put people over politics.”

The governor dismissed the “partisan forces” of Washington, D.C., and listed his first-term accomplishments, like expanding Medicaid to cover about half a million working poor and giving public school teachers their first pay raise in a decade, all key planks of his reelection platform. Edwards said he thanked his opponent for putting himself up for public service when Rispone called to concede.

“You didn’t just vote for me,” Edwards told his supporters. “You voted for four more years of putting Louisiana first. You may have heard me say once or twice God will order our steps, but we have to move our feet. And you moved your feet to the polls.”

(…)

Edwards campaigned for his first term promising sweeping changes to the way the state collects and spends taxes to curtail deficits and recurring service cuts. But it took three years of negotiations with a seemingly intransigent House Republican leadership before a compromise plan was put together with moderate Republicans that increased state sales taxes by about a half-cent and suspended tax exemptions until mid-2025.

(…)

Campaigning for reelection, Edwards liked to point out that the changes created a surplus and stabilized the budget to the point that Wall Street analysts approved. His opponents said the surplus was caused by Edwards’ overtaxing the people of Louisiana.

It’s worth noting here that, as with his victory four years ago, Edwards’ win last night should not be seen as a sign that Louisiana is anywhere close to becoming a blue or purple state. Despite Edwards’ win, which was just as narrow as his win over former Senator David Vitter four years ago, Republicans maintain full control over the state legislature, and also hold both of the state’s Senate seats and all but one of its Congressional seats. Additionally, this is a state that President Trump won by 20 points in 2016 and which he will win easily again in 2020. Additionally, all of the other statewide elected offices in the state are held by Republicans. In other words, while the Governor may be a Democrat, it is still a heavily Republican state and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, Edwards is far from being a typical national Democrat. He is pro-life, for example, and his support for that position can be seen in the fact that he supported and signed into law the state’s recently adopted “heartbeat” bill that purports to ban abortion from the point that a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is far earlier than the point of viability at which the precedent established in Roe v. Wade generally permits state regulation of the procedure. He is also strongly in favor of gun rights and has done little to push back on other conservative causes. He also hasn’t touched some of the policies of his predecessor such as a generally successful school-choice program that has been criticized by teacher’s unions. Finally, Edwards has benefited from the fact that the economy in the state has been fairly strong, which has allowed the state to get out of the fiscal hole that Jindal left it in when he left office four years ago. So, yes, Edwards is a Democrat but he’s more in line with Joe Manchin than he is, say, Elizabeth Warren.

Despite all of this, the outcome is being seen as something of a political black eye for the President:

President Donald Trump campaigned hard in three conservative Southern states this fall, aiming for a string of gubernatorial wins that would demonstrate his political strength heading into impeachment and his own reelection effort.

The plan backfired in dramatic fashion.

The latest black eye came on Saturday, when Trump’s favored candidate in Louisiana, multimillionaire businessman Eddie Rispone, went down to defeat. The president went all-in, visiting the state three times, most recently on Thursday. Earlier this month, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin lost reelection after a similar presidential effort on his behalf. Of the candidates Trump backed, only Tate Reeves in Mississippi won.

The losses raise questions about Trump’s standing as he heads into what will be a grueling 2020 campaign. By throwing himself into the three contests — each in states that Trump won by double-digits in 2016 — the president had hoped to gain a modicum of political momentum at a perilous moment of his presidency.

Those close to the president argue that he can’t be faulted for the Kentucky and Louisiana outcomes. Bevin was one of the country’s least popular governors, while Rispone was a relatively unknown political newcomer who was facing a popular incumbent in Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. While the president can help, they contend, he can’t always be expected to pull flawed candidates over the finish line.

But Trump attempted to turn each contest into a referendum on himself — especially Louisiana. Earlier this week, the president pleaded with rally-goers to dump Edwards.

“In two days, I really need you, but you really need you, to send a message to the corrupt Democrats in Washington,” he said. “They are corrupt. They are crazy, crazy.”

After the Kentucky defeat, the president added, much was riding on Louisiana.

“So, Trump took a loss,” the president said, referring to Bevin’s defeat. “So you got to give me a big win, please. OK? OK?”

Trump’s activity in the Louisiana contest was particularly extensive: In addition to the rallies, he called into conservative radio stations on Rispone’s behalf, recorded get-out-the-vote robocalls and videos, and sent out a stream of tweets savaging Edwards. On Saturday, the president wrote several tweets encouraging Louisianans to cast their ballots for Rispone.

Trump’s political operation also invested heavily, with the Republican National Committee spending $2 million on the race. The president took a personal interest in the contest, quizzing aides and allies about developments.

The outcome of the Lousiana race, and the Governor’s race in Kentucky, which ended late last week when Matt Bevin finally conceded the race, do certainly call into question the ability of the President to transfer his own support to support for other candidates in close races. However, I’m not sure that one can fairly characterize them as “rebukes” of Trump per se. In both cases, there are unique reasons that just as easily explain the outcome that doesn’t require one to believe that we’re seeing the signs of Republican voters turning against the President. In Kentucky, for example, we’re dealing with a state that has elected Democrats to statewide seats several times in the past, the fact that the Democratic nominee was the son of a highly popular former Governor, and the fact that Governor Bevin was the most unpopular Governor in the country. In Louisiana, as I noted above, there’s the fact that Edwards is not a typical Democrat and that a Democrat less conservative than he is probably would not be elected or re-elected in a state such as Louisiana.

That being said, the outcome in Louisiana, as well as some of the other races this month, does contain some warning signals that Republicans ought to be worried about. Last night, for example, the suburban areas around New Orleans, which are generally very Republican, had a strong pro-Edwards turnout that probably included many 2016 Trump voters who decided to vote for the Democratic Governor> This mirrors the results from the Governor’s race in Kentucky and the state legislative elections in Virginia that showed Democrats doing very well in suburban areas that have been favorable to Republicans in the past. Last night’s vote also showed a strong turnout for Edwards among the state’s African-American voters, something that was missing in states like Pennsylvania in 2016 and which likely made a difference in the outcome in those states. If these trends continue into 2020, then the Trump campaign and the GOP generally could find themselves facing an uphill battle.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2019, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    As with Kentucky I don’t think there is much to read into this other than the importance about turning out the base and the need for a candidate that can build a consensus among Democrats.

    That said, I heard the audio of the President on Thursday begging for support and “oof” it was pretty pathetic. I wonder how he’s going to spin this one. My bet, if he addresses it at all, will be to say the only reason this was close was because he came down and spoke.

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  2. CSK says:

    There’s nothing on Trump’s Twitter feed yet. Perhaps he plans to ignore this development.

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  3. I think what you can read into both LA and KY is that there is an increasing nationalization of politics. Trump himself tried to make both races about national politics, not state politics.

    But no one should kid themselves that these outcomes mean anything about 2020 outcomes in these states.

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  4. Michael Cain says:

    So, Democrats can win in the South by nominating moderate Republicans as candidates (Edwards is anti-abortion and generally supportive of oil and gas). Or moderate Democrats like Doug Jones if the Republicans cooperate and run terrible candidates (Roy Moore). When I want to annoy certain friends who start listing off what they want to see in a President Warren’s legislative agenda, I point out that any realistic Democratic Senate majority that might happen in 2020 will include Manchin from WV and nine Senators from the Mountain West states.

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    Yes, this was a close race and it would have been a close race no matter what, but I wouldn’t minimize the impact this will have on Trump’s congressional support. Louisiana went for Trump by twenty points, but he was unable to persuade those fans to transfer that support to another Republican, despite all but getting on his knees and begging. It won’t be lost on elected Republicans that being a vocal supporter of Trump does not bring any benefits.

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  6. Moosebreath says:

    @CSK:

    “There’s nothing on Trump’s Twitter feed yet. Perhaps he plans to ignore this development.”

    Or perhaps he is still recovering from his unscheduled medical tests:

    “President Donald Trump underwent a “quick exam and labs” as part of his annual physical exam on Saturday, out of anticipation of a “very busy 2020,” the White House said.

    Trump, 73, made an unannounced visit Saturday afternoon to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

    A source with knowledge of the matter told CNN that Trump’s trip to Walter Reed was not on his schedule as of Friday. On Saturday evening, Grisham told Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro that the President decided to go on Saturday since it was a down day.”

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  7. @Michael Cain: I would extrapolate zero about Doug Jones’ win: it took a special election and a historically bad R candidate to allow a D to win that seat (and he won by a narrow margin).

    It is not a replicatable scenario.

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  8. @Michael Cain:

    Not to mention Senators like Sinema and (if he wins) Mark Kelly from Arizona who are more in the Manchin camp than the Warren camp.

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  9. @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is not a replicatable scenario.

    Well, if the GOP were dumb enough to nominate Roy Moore again……

    (I doubt they will. The nominee is likely to be either Sessions or Tuberville.)

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  10. I would note, too, that we are still in an era (which may be fading) wherein a governor can win office even when the state has an opposite partisan lean, especially for president.

    The D in this case was an incumbent, which helped. Being an off-year election helped as well.

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  11. CSK says:

    @Moosebreath: A reporter from http://www.thehill.com said that a source told him that Trump had suffered “chest discomfort.”

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  12. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Sure. Massachusetts is a very blue state with a penchant for electing Republican governors.

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  13. @Steven L. Taylor:

    It isn’t uncommon for an opposing party Governor to win in a solidly red or blue state.

    (See Mitt Romney and Charlie Baker in Mass., Christie in New Jersey, Larry Hogan in Maryland, Phil Scott in Vermont, and, of course, the results in KY and LA)

    I think this is because voters often view the Governor’s race as being one where competence rather than ideology matters the most.

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  14. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think what you can read into both LA and KY is that there is an increasing nationalization of politics. Trump himself tried to make both races about national politics, not state politics.

    To that point, the pre election coverage on NPR yesterday discussed how Edward’s explicit strategy was to try to keep the race local and not run this as a referendum of either Trump or the Democrats at the national level.

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  15. @mattbernius:

    To that point, the pre election coverage on NPR yesterday discussed how Edward’s explicit strategy was to try to keep the race local and not run this as a referendum of either Trump or the Democrats at the national level.

    This was true in KY as well. The R tried to nationalize (because he was in trouble) and the D focused on the local.

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  16. Michael Cain says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Isn’t that what I said? Jones is the example of a Deep South moderate Democrat winning if the Republicans run a terrible candidate. Kentucky earlier this month looks similar: the Republican Bevin was widely despised, and that was just enough (the other statewide votes went roughly 57/43 for the Republican).

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  17. @mattbernius:

    Andy Beshear did the same thing in Kentucky.

    While Bevin was trying out-Trump Trump, Beshear was talking about the budget, education, and other issues.

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  18. @Doug Mataconis:

    Well, if the GOP were dumb enough to nominate Roy Moore again……

    This really is unlikely, even before Sessions got back in. Moore is actually not super popular in the state. Another part of the “not replicatable” issue with that election is that one of Moore’s challengers in the primary was tainted by scandal involving the governor who had to resign. Without that, I don’t think he would ever have won the primary.

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  19. @Michael Cain: I wasn’t disagreeing, per se. I am stating, however, that it was more than just a terrible candidate. It was confluence of circumstances that are almost sui generis.

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  20. Michael Cain says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Like the Census Bureau, I include Arizona in the Mountain West :^)

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  21. Lounsbury says:

    @mattbernius: You mean by “build consensus” = attract non ‘base’ Purist voters. Centrist candidates for the suburbs, the rural areas and the non-Coastal/big-urban geographies.

    What this win shows is that contrary to the whinging among the ideological Left, it is perfectly possible with strategic centrism to peel off enough of moderate Republican or Republican leaning vote to win at state levels. It means accepting candidates that are not Lefties as such, but can win as the modern Republican party descends into screechy racist-nationalist reactionarianism.

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  22. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is not a replicatable scenario.

    Except every year in one state or another, the Republicans nominate someone who is so awful that they cannot win even when they should. Whether it’s “I am not a witch”, “legitimate rape”, creeping on high school girls, or paying for your health care with chickens — theres something every year.

    We will be baffled and shocked by some Republican. I don’t think it will repeat in Alabama this year though.

    Unless Sessions embraces the KKKeebler Elf caricature of him. Or his toadying up to Trump after all that abuse sickens everyone and the Harry Potter fans manage to make him known as a House Elf, with a touch of a racial House N-Clang tone.

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  23. Gromitt Gunn says:

    There were run-offs yesterday in LA for both Gov and Lt. Gov.

    Edwards won 51 – 49. The Rep. Lt. Gov. Candidate won 59 – 41. The vote counts were similar in each race.

    So the question that both sides need to figure out is what made 8% of the voters who turned out actively switch from “generic Rep” to Edwards for this one race.

    I’d love to know how many of those folks were actively casting a vote against Trump and how many were voting for an competent executive after the failed years of Jindal.

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  24. Kylopod says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    I’d love to know how many of those folks were actively casting a vote against Trump and how many were voting for an competent executive after the failed years of Jindal.

    I don’t think there’s a simple answer. The Jindal factor, and the fact that Edwards is the incumbent, helped make this race winnable for Dems. But it also required decent turnout from Democrats, many of whom are in the habit of staying home because they “know” LA is a red state and that they are outnumbered by Republican voters.

    There’s always that two-step element when Dems win in red states: first, the thing that makes the Republican candidate vulnerable, and second, Democratic voters awakening from their slumber and actually going out to vote. We saw the same thing in Alabama in 2017.

    We should look at the exit polls to see the partisan breakdown and turnout patterns. In 2017, Roy Moore still won 92% of the Republican vote, just 3% worse than Jeff Sessions did in 2008. What changed most dramatically was his support among independents. Doug Jones won the majority of indies, whereas they went overwhelmingly for Sessions in 2008. Sessions also won about one-fifth of Democrats, whereas Roy Moore only won about 2% of Dems.

    Keep in mind that in the South it’s common for there to be independents and even Democrats who are functionally Republican most of the time, in terms of their voting patterns. But I think these “Republican in all but name” voters” are a bit more flexible than those who self-identify as R.

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  25. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think what you can read into both LA and KY is that there is an increasing nationalization of politics. Trump himself tried to make both races about national politics, not state politics.

    And his candidates lost.

    I might make the same case that it is a rejection of the nationalization of local politics. People want a governor that does more than just suck up to Trump.

    (This may not translate to Senate and House races)

    Do you have data to back up your assertion? I don’t…

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  26. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Kylopod: While I understand what you wrote, and agree with it in a general sense, I can not shake the feeling that you chose to answer a different question than the one I asked.

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  27. @Gustopher:

    I might make the same case that it is a rejection of the nationalization of local politics. People want a governor that does more than just suck up to Trump.

    […]

    Do you have data to back up your assertion? I don’t…

    It really isn’t a data question, as I am not arguing efficacy. I am pointing out that Bevan explicitly made his campaign for re-election KY to be about Trump and not about Kentucky. That is an example of nationalizing party politics.

    Here is Sessions doing the same thing in announcing his bid for the GOP nomination: click.

    It is not that this is a radical new thing, but I would posit that it is growing, even to other state races (such at the way the VA state legislature race was discussed nationally). Politics is becoming less local the more polarized we get.

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  28. @Gustopher: From a data POV, I do think that Bevan was able to close the gap the more he shifted his campaign to be a referendum on impeachment, but I would need to give that a look to confirm.

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  29. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is not that this is a radical new thing, but I would posit that it is growing, even to other state races (such at the way the VA state legislature race was discussed nationally). Politics is becoming less local the more polarized we get.

    And, based on the barflies in my local bar, there’s a fair number of people who want politics to be less polarized, and want politicians to focus more on the bread and butter issues and local issues and while I think the barflies are idiots, these are exactly the idiots that Biden is trying to attract with his suggestions that politics will go back to normal after Trump.

    I have no idea about the numbers, just a strong sense that everyone thinks they understand the electorate better than they do. I thought you might have some polling up your sleeve.

    (I’m still baffled that that second choice polling was grouping Bernie and Biden supporters together, and Warren and Harris supporters together. It’s one of those “the world does not work as you expect” moments)

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  30. @Gustopher: I am not talking about the electorate, per se, but about observable political behavior by politicians.

    I think you are misunderstanding my point.

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  31. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @mattbernius:

    I wonder how he’s going to spin this one.

    He deleted all his Tweets supporting him.

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  32. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    What this race, and the one in Kentucky shows, is the importance of turnout…and how Trump really does drive Democratic turnout. Bevin went from +5 a few days before the election, to losing by -1, after Trump went to Kentucky.

    Also:
    Trump appears to have had a health episode of some sort, which the WH is clearly lying about.
    The RNC and the Ambassador to the Bahamas seem to be embroiled in a pay-to-play scheme. Ronna Romney may be fuqed.

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  33. An Interested Party says:

    …and how Trump really does drive Democratic turnout.

    Indeed…as this article amply illustrates…if I may paraphrase Rashida Tlaib…in so many ways, this motherfucker is toxic…I don’t think many people fully realize that…

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