BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, the lone Democratic governor in the Deep South, won re-election Saturday night by a hair against Republican contender Eddie Rispone on behalf of whom President Trump visited Louisiana three times in recent weeks in an effort to fire up Republican voters.
“Our shared love for Louisiana is always more important than the partisan differences that sometimes divide us,” Edwards said during a victory speech to supporters Saturday night.
“And as for the president, God bless his heart,” Edwards continued.
Edwards won with about 51% of the vote, with 40,341 more votes than Rispone. Edwards received 774,469 votes and Rispone received 734,128, according to complete but unofficial returns. Just over half 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 passionate victory speech Saturday in which he vowed to continue to fight to raise the minimum wage, close the gender pay gap and invest more in early childhood education, which he called his number one priority in the next term.
Governor Edwards spoke against the “partisan efforts” of Washington D.C., and listed the accomplishments of his first term, which include expanding Medicaid to cover about half a million working poor and giving public school teachers their first pay raise in a decade, all key elements of his platform for re-election.
“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.”
As Edwards, 53, was giving his speech, Rispone, 70, was about five miles away, conceding, at the L’Auberge Casino & Hotel in Baton Rouge.
“I am disappointed, if I am being honest,” Rispone said in his speech.
“By the way, can we give President Trump a round of applause? That man loves America and he loves Louisiana. He came down here three times specifically to try and help us,” Rispone added.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Rispone said at another point. “We have over 700,000 people in Louisiana that really want something better and something different.”
President Trump held three rallies in Louisiana over the past weeks in a push to energize Republicans to vote out Edwards and put a Republican in the governor’s seat. Initially, Rispone, a millionaire businessman making his first bid for public office, was one of two main Republican contenders. Trump didn’t make any specific endorsement until the race was down to just Rispone.
The polls showed Edwards and Rispone were practically tied going into Saturday’s vote. Analysts had predicted the race would come down to whoever got their supporters to the polls.
Urban ministers, organized labor and black politicians worked for Edwards. Meanwhile, Rispone had Trump at his side at rallies, along with $2 million and 60 paid staffers sent last minute from the Republican National Committee and millions more dollars from the Republican Governors Association who hoped to fill the office with a Republican.
Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, was elected in 2015 in what many viewed as a flawed election due to Edwards’ Republican opponent being entrenched in a prostitution scandal.
Even while Republican opponents have attempted to tie Edwards to national Democrats, he is an unusual mix of values, both pro-life and pro-gun and has oftentimes frustrated progressives with his conservative stances.
He signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans, all the while expanding Medicaid coverage to benefit the working poor, something Republicans generally oppose. During campaign speeches, even at the very end of the race, Edwards continued to speak of his willingness and ability to work well with Trump.
During his re-election campaign, Edwards often pointed out that changes he’s made to the state’s budget created a surplus that was approved of by Wall Street analysts. His opponents said the surplus was a result of Edwards overtaxing Louisiana residents.
Before polls closed Saturday, Trump tweeted several times to encourage voters to get out and support Rispone.
Edward’s re-election came as the second major victory for Democrats in a governor’s race in two weeks. In Kentucky this month, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear unseated Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.
In 2020, 24 governors across the nation will be Democrats, up from 15 at the close of 2017.