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Edwards, Rispone in gubernatorial runoff

Monday, October 14, 2019
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Note: this story is from Sunday morning's online-only edition covering the results of Saturday's primary election. The vote totals were updated slightly Monday morning.

Louisiana voters have spoken, and Gov. John Bel Edwards will take on Republican candidate Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman and longtime GOP political donor making his first bid for public office, in a runoff election on Nov. 16.

According to unofficial results as of Monday morning on the Louisiana Secretary of State website, Edwards totaled 46.6% of votes in the election (625,952) while Rispone totaled 27.42% of votes (368, 295).

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham finished third, bringing in 23.6% of votes (317,106).

That was the overall state consensus on the gubernatorial election. Lincoln Parish had a different take.

Edwards totaled the most votes in the parish with 40.39% of votes (4,820) while Abraham was close behind with 39.26% of votes (4,685).

Rispone finished third in Lincoln Parish, totaling 18.86% of the votes (2,251).

Edwards’ inability to pick up more than 50% of the overall state vote in the six-candidate race is raising questions about his reelection’s chances against a national Republican offensive that includes President Donald Trump. Trump made a last-minute appeal to Louisiana voters on Friday to reject Edwards, but he didn’t endorse either Rispone or Abraham.

Edwards told supporters late Saturday night they should brace for a barrage of national Republican efforts trying to unseat him in the five weeks leading up to Louisiana’s runoff election.

He also told supporters: “We’ve got a little more work to do.” But he said he believes Louisiana voters will embrace the spirit of bipartisanship in November and reelect him. Trump praised the outcome of Saturday’s election and took credit for keeping Edwards from a primary victory, saying in a tweet: “The Governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, has done a poor job. NOW HE IS IN A RUNOFF WITH A GREAT REPUBLICAN, @EddieRispone. Thank you Louisiana!” Trump said Edwards’ support fell “after I explained what a bad job the Governor was doing.”

Democrats wan an Edwards reelection win to show they can compete in a state Trump won by 20 points.

But the 53-year-old Edwards isn’t exactly a Democrat in the national mold.

The West Point graduate and former Army Raner opposes abortion and gun restrictions, talks of working well with the Trump administration and calls the U.S. House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry a distraction to governing in Washington. He signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans.

Throughout his campaign, Edwards sought to make the election a referendum on his performance rather than a commentary on Louisiana views on national politics.

Edwards expanded Louisiana’s Medicaid program, adding nearly a half-million new people to government-financed health care and lowering the state’s uninsured rate below the national average. A bipartisan criminal sentencing law rewrite he championed ended Louisiana’s tenure as the nation’s top jailer.

Rispone, 70, founder of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, presented himself in the mold of Trump, describing himself as a conservative outsider who would upend the traditional political system of Baton Rouge.

He pledged to hold a state constitutional convention to rewrite provisions dealing with the budget and taxes, state employee protections and education, though he provided few specifics. Rispone promised to cut taxes, though it was unclear how he would balance the budget with less money even as he talked of new spending on early childhood education and roadwork.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.