Louisiana Gubernatorial Candidates Face Off in Contentious Debate

BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) – The two candidates for Louisiana governor argued with one another throughout most of a debate Wednesday night in a contentious event that will be their only appearance together before the runoff election.

Incumbent John Bel Edwards, a pro-life, pro-gun West Point graduate who is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, tried to show that his primary interest in being governor is what’s best for Louisiana.

Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, meanwhile, played up his love for President Donald Trump as well as Trump’s endorsement of his candidacy. He took aim several times at liberals in general, including the “wacko socialist” liberal who will face Trump in the next election.

Gov. Edwards spent the majority of the debate looking dumbfounded at both the questions and answers Rispone offered. Edwards accused Rispone of profiting off state tax incentive programs and hiring many fewer workers than he claims, most of whom Edwards characterized as “foreign.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at his election night watch party in Baton Rouge, La., on Oct. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

Edwards also called at least one of Rispone’s questions “stupid,” and called Rispone “phony,” telling Rispone at one point to “stop lying and fear mongering.”

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Edwards told Rispone the fourth time Rispone insisted Louisiana’s economy is 50th in the U.S. despite Edward’s insistence it is the 10th best in the nation. “And, quite frankly, what you don’t know is astounding.”

In another segment, Edwards asked Rispone how he planned to address pay inequality among women across the state, to which Rispone responded elaborately that women are paid the same as men in his field.

Edwards said Louisiana has the highest payment inequality in the nation, with women statewide making between 50 to 69 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts.

“We are driving kids into poverty because we won’t pay their mothers what we pay men when they go to work and do the same jobs. It is wrong,” Edwards said.

Risponse insisted again that pay inequality simply doesn’t happen in his “industry.”

“It happens in the state of Louisiana,” Edwards replied. “You are not running to be governor of your industry.”

Rispone has closely allied himself with Trump throughout the race and refers to himself as an outsider businessman like Trump, as opposed to a career politician.

He spoke without specifics throughout the debate and said numerous times that Louisiana has been near run into the ground under Governor Edward’s leadership.

“What you’ve been doing is killing jobs, you and your liberal trial lawyers,” Rispone told Edwards.

“This is a clear choice between a tax-and-spend, liberal, career politician … and an outsider, a conservative, a pro-Trump person, someone who has created thousands of jobs,” Rispone added.

Edwards, who is known as a strong debater, agreed to attend another TV debate ahead of voting in the runoff, but Rispone agreed to just the Wednesday debate. Early voting begins Nov. 2.

Polls show a close race. Trump held a rally in Lake Charles the day before the primary election to rile voters to vote out Edwards. Trump is expected to return to Lake Charles to rally again before the runoff.  Vice President Mike Pence was in Louisiana earlier this week to help Rispone with fundraising.

Rispone, co-founder of an industrial contracting firm, gave more than $11 million of his own money to his campaign in the primary and spent millions on ads that compare him to Trump.

During the primaries, Rispone was able to beat out his Republican contender, U.S. Representative Ralph Abramson.

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