South’s Only Democratic Governor Tries to Hold On

NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, needs 50% plus 1 vote on Saturday to avoid a runoff in his re-election bid.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. (AP file photo/Melinda Deslatte)

If Edwards, a conservative, anti-abortion, pro-gun, former Army Ranger and West Point graduate, doesn’t eke out a simple majority, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen in November.

Edwards is leading the polls for the Saturday election, in which all candidates, regardless of party, run against each other on the same ballot.

Republicans are hoping for a runoff, which might be their best chance for November, as no Republican appears able to notch 50% of the vote this week.

Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. have held get-out-the-vote events, and President Trump has an anti-Edwards rally scheduled for Friday in Lake Charles.

Early voting this year, which opened Sept. 28 and lasted through last weekend, brought the highest-ever turnout for a Louisiana governor election.

That’s a bit surprising, as there are no well-known names among the Republican contenders.

Neither of Edward’s two main Republican opponents have the official endorsement of their party. Both have repeatedly swiped at Edwards, but lodged some of the nastiest swipes against one another, both of them claiming the other is a liar.

Republican Ralph Abraham, a third-term congressman and doctor from rural north Louisiana, called Trump and Louisiana “a match literally made in heaven,” during last week’s third and final debate.

“The president wants what I want, and that’s a Republican governor in this seat of Louisiana to make Louisiana win again,” Abraham said.

Eddie Rispone, the other main Republican candidate, a Baton Rouge businessman and longtime political donor who has poured millions of his own money into his campaign, has said repeatedly that Trump wants a Republican governor to “make Louisiana win again.”

Rispone asked Edwards why he supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, to which Edwards replied that he is governing not from a Washington-centric mindset but from one that is Louisiana-specific and bipartisan.

“Everything I have done in the state has been bipartisan. That’s the way we have moved our state forward, gotten out of the ditch. I work well with Republicans, with Democrats, and with Independents — with anybody who wants to show up and work in good faith with me,” Edwards said.

Baton Rouge-based pollster Bernie Pinsonat told The Advocate newspaper recently that the Democrats “are fortunate. There’s a united front.

“Republicans are victims of their own success as a party,” Pinsonat said. “They can’t pick one of them, and so they’re running against a common enemy. They don’t have any other strategy available to them.”

Polls show neither Abraham nor Rispone emerging as the leading Republican contender.

Edwards is credited with a bipartisan tax deal that stabilized state finances after a budget crisis that spanned nearly a decade, and for a popular statewide teacher pay raise. His Medicaid expansion program dropped Louisiana’s uninsured rate below the national average.

But within his own base, Edwards, who won votes during the 2016 election with promises far beyond anything he has yet to accomplish, draws criticism for his position on many issues, including a staunch pro-life position that includes signing a law that would ban abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

Miffed voters, though, have no way of lodging their disappointment over Edwards’ conservative stances, with no major candidate supporting abortion rights, for instance.

Edwards joined Abraham and Rispone during the Wednesday debate in offering to pray with a woman seeking an abortion to end a pregnancy that was the result of rape.

All three of the leading candidates said they are against abortion for any reason, including unwanted pregnancies from rape or incest.

Edwards has avoided national issues for the most part, rarely criticizing Trump and calling the impeachment inquiry a “distraction that’s going to keep the federal government from actually governing.”

Edwards has, however, blamed Trump’s trade decisions and tariffs for a local steel mill closing recently.

Abraham and Rispone say Edwards’ taxes have run businesses out of the state and say Edwards is trying to run the oil and gas industry into the ground. Edwards counters that he is not trying to shutter oil and gas but has merely tried to secure funding from the industry to support desperately needed coastal restoration efforts.

His Republican opponents say the Medicaid expansion program he endorsed wasted millions of dollars. And they lose no chance to remind voters of the alleged sex assault of a coworker by Edwards’ former chief deputy Johnny Anderson, who resigned in 2017.

One Republican attack ad features Anderson’s accuser speaking directly to the camera, saying Edwards hired Anderson despite previous sexual misconduct allegations against him. Edwards defended that decision during a debate, saying Anderson had been cleared of those allegations.

This week the Republican contenders and Anderson’s accuser held a press conference in Baton Rouge. His accuser published a letter saying Edwards is “twisting and turning in his attempt to cover up the truth.”

Whether the incident will affect Edwards’ standing at the polls remains to be seen. The latest surveys this week placed his approval rating with voters at around 48%.

Other posts at stake on Saturday include lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state. A ballot question asks whether materials passing through Louisiana for the purpose of offshore oil and gas exploration should be taxed.

Results from the polls, which close at 8 p.m. Saturday, should be known late Saturday or early Sunday.

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