The next governor for Louisiana will have to be decided in November, with incumbent Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards falling shy of the 50% needed to win Saturday’s “jungle” primary outright, according to The Associated Press. After being neck-and-neck for the last push of the race, businessman Eddie Rispone beat out U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham for the Republican spot in the runoff and secured the second-most amount of votes with about 28%of the vote.
Rispone was able to escape a close and brutal primary with Abraham, where the two consistently clashed with each other on the debate stage and through television ads. Prior to Saturday, he was either tied or leading Abraham by single digits in the polls.
He also held a big fundraising advantage with about $2.7 million raised compared to Abraham’s $318,000.
However in his concession speech, Abraham immediately announced his endorsement of his former opponent, whom he appeared onstage with at a Donald Trump rally in Lake Charles the night prior.
“I’ve called Eddie, I’ve given him my congratulations and I’ve endorsed him because we still have one task left — and that’s to beat John Bel Edwards,” Abraham said at his concession speech.
Mr. Trump also responded to the news in a tweet slamming Edwards and calling Rispone “great.”
Rispone will face incumbent Democrat Governor Edwards on Wednesday, November 16.
Louisiana Secretary of State spokesman Tyler Brey projected that turnout would be within the “low to mid 40s.” This year’s early election turnout set a record for a non-presidential year in the state, which Brey said could be a reason for a lesser turnout on election day.
Only five governors in state history have won a second term and most polls prior to Saturday showed Edwards hovering around the majority he needed. But Rispone and Abraham were able to get enough GOP turnout across the state’s parishes, including Calcasieu Parish where the president won by over 30 points in 2016 and held his Friday night rally.
At the rally, Mr. Trump urged Republicans to cast their ballots for either GOP candidate, taking clear measures to not explicitly endorse either one. Rispone spokesperson Celia Bote said the president’s appearance helped give a significant boost to the vote on Saturday.
“You’re not allowed to hit your Republican opponent, you’re only allowed to hit John Bel Edwards because he deserves it,” Mr. Trump said Friday night.
Rispone, a millionaire construction magnate and prominent GOP donor making his first bid for public office, often painted himself as a Trump-like outsider and talked on the campaign trail and on debate stages about his experiences as a businessman and how he would not be a “politically correct” governor. On the trail and on the debate stage, he tried to tie Edwards to national Democrats by bringing up his vote as a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Abraham, a third-term Congressman, was seen as the Republican establishment pick early on in the race.
The lawmaker often attacked Governor Edwards for raising state taxes and said in an ad that Governor Edwards has “declared war” on the oil sector. Earlier in October, he also introduced a resolution to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from office for launching an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
During his rally, the president also tied Governor Edwards to other national Democrats by bringing up his support for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 2018 Georgia Governor candidate Stacey Abrams.
“That’s why tomorrow I need you to send the radical Democrat establishment a loud and clear message. You are going to fire your Democrat governor who has done a lousy job and sent a great Republican to the governor’s mansion,” Trump said on Friday.
The White House Twitter account tweeted about Louisiana’s unemployment rate dropping as Mr. Trump spoke Friday evening — a talking point that Edwards often touted on the campaign trail. Edwards constantly pointed to his meetings and work with President Trump to illustrate his bipartisanship.
During his first eight months in office, he met with the president multiple times about various catastrophic floods that hit the southern part of the state. Catastrophe struck on election day as well, as parts of the under construction Hotel Rock Hotel collapsed Saturday morning. According to authorities, at least one person was killed. Two others remain missing.
Governor Edwards was at the scene and urged residents to stay away from the area. “I’m just asking for everybody to pray for those who are at the hospital,” Edwards told reporters. Brey said no polling places were affected by the incident.
In hopes of cutting into his support amongst women, the Republican Governors Association and the Truth in Politics PAC ran attack ads in the weeks before the election about Edwards’ former Deputy Chief of Staff Johnny Anderson, who faced an allegation of sexual harassment in 2017. Edwards said he immediately demanded the resignation of this aide.
As the only Democratic governor in the deep south, Edwards’ socially conservative views on issues like abortion don’t align with most national Democrats but play well in a state that has the highest percentage of people who believe all forms of abortion should be illegal.
Edwards campaign spokesman Eric Holl ballparked before the election that they would get in the high 40% range or more. While he said that they were definitely trying to win outright on Saturday, head-to-head polls and Edward’s knack for fundraising show the team is confident they’ll win the general election.
In 2015, Edwards won in a runoff by 13% points against Republican David Vitter.
Louisiana is one of three states that has a gubernatorial election this year. Mississippi and Kentucky also have their general elections in November.