The results of the Louisiana Governor’s race on October 12 were disappointing but not surprising. Incumbent John Bel Edwards (D) will face Eddie Rispone (R) in a run-off election on November 16. Primaries in Louisiana are unique in that if no candidate gets over 50%, the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, face each other in the run-off. Governor Edwards garnered 46%; Rispone, 27%. Third place finisher Ralph Abraham (R), who earned 24%, has endorsed Rispone. That means Edwards is in trouble. And if Edwards loses, Louisiana is in trouble.
Many were hopeful Edwards would win in the primary, considering the excellent job he has done putting out the dumpster fire he inherited from his predecessor, Bobby Jindal. Edwards has managed to turn budget deficits and shortfalls into surpluses, improve the state’s credit rating, give teachers a pay raise, restore funding to higher education, increase morale among state workers (who were demoralized under Jindal), pass criminal justice reform, reverse Jindal’s anti-LGBT+ Executive Orders, and perhaps most significantly, provide health insurance coverage to millions who had none by accepting federal money to expand Medicaid. All of that will probably be undone if Rispone wins.
Rispone is a businessman who has never held elected office. During the primary, he wrapped himself around Trump and accused Abraham, a Republican Congressman, of not supporting Trump enough.
Edwards enjoys widespread bipartisan support as an effective leader with a record of accomplishments. An overwhelming number of Republican elected officials, including many Sheriffs and District Attorneys, endorsed Edwards. The problem is that uneducated voters, which is to say most voters in Louisiana, are susceptible to being exploited by partisan smear tactics. In addition to proclaiming his fealty to Donald Trump incessantly in television commercials, Rispone took a page right out of the GOP playbook and based his appeal to rural voters on god, guns, and gays—three “issues” which have absolutely no bearing on the quality of Republican voters’ lives, but which do trigger emotional responses.
Can Edwards win? The answer depends upon voter turnout. Roughly 46% of registered voters voted in the primary. That may seem low but it’s much higher than the 39% turnout in the same race four years ago. Nevertheless, the fact that less than half of registered voters actually bothered to vote is pretty depressing.
Given the lack of a red-hot, radioactive issue that motivates voters to turn out, voter apathy is always a problem. The only truly controversial issue in this race was Governor Edwards anti-choice position with regard to women’s reproductive rights. By coming out as “pro-life,” and having no pro-choice candidates in the race, many pro-choice proponents may have chosen to just stay home on election day.
Much is at stake. A Rispone administration would essentially be a return to the failed policies of Bobby Jindal. That would be tragic for Louisiana.