First-Term Louisiana Gov. Edwards Forced to Run-Off Against Rispone

Republican challenger Eddie Rispone (R) and Louisiana Gov. John Bel-Edwards (D)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 15, 2019 — Saturday’s Louisiana statewide open primary election found first-term Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) failing to win re-election outright, meaning he and the second-place finisher, businessman Eddie Rispone (R), will advance to a Nov. 16 secondary vote.

The result suggests Edwards’ bid for re-election is in trouble since no governor in Louisiana history has won a secondary vote when forced into a run-off. The governor received 46.6 percent of the vote in the primary, an election where all candidates are placed on the same ballot irrespective of political party affiliation. If no contender receives majority support, as was the case on Saturday, the top two finishers advance to a second election.

Rispone (pronounced: ris-pony), a Baton Rouge-area developer who reportedly spent more than $11 million of his own money on the gubernatorial campaign, garnered 27.4 percent of the vote, more than 51,000 votes ahead of third place finisher and fellow Republican Ralph Abraham, a northern Louisiana US congressman. The remaining two-plus percentage points were spread among a minor Democrat, Republican, and Independent.

Combined, the Democratic vote, despite featuring the incumbent at the top of the ticket, reached only 47.4 percent, compared to the combined Republican percentage of 51.8. Upon being eliminated, Congressman Abraham, who did not have to risk his federal position to run for governor, immediately endorsed Rispone. The two appeared together at President Trump’s Louisiana rally on Friday night, at which point the president urged the attenders to vote for either GOP candidate.

Polling appeared to correctly predict the race. Going into the final campaign days, nine different pollsters through 11 separate polls surveyed the Louisiana electorate. Nine of the 11 predicted Edwards to finish below 50 percent. Eight of the surveys projected Rispone to finish second with Rep. Abraham close behind. The Trafalgar Group and Data for Progress firms predicted the final result almost exactly.

Turnout was strong, with almost 1.35 million ballots being cast. The figure represents a 20.6 percent increase over the 2015 gubernatorial primary, an open-seat election that sent Edwards and then-Sen. David Vitter (R) into a run-off election. Edwards placed first in the jungle primary that year with 40 percent as compared to Sen. Vitter’s 23 percent, and the run-off then easily went the former man’s way: a 56-44 percent victory margin.

In addition to the polling, the early vote numbers were largely indicative of the final result. Saturday’s primary yielded a sizable upsurge in early votes: 386,463, as compared to 270,144 four years earlier, an increase of 43 percent. Republicans jumped up substantially in early participation. In 2015, the early vote cut 52.3-34.4 percent in favor of the Democrats but, in this election, Republicans closed the gap to 43.7 to 41.3 percent.

Gov. Edwards placed first in 48 of the state’s 64 parishes, running extremely strongly in the New Orleans metro area. He won Orleans Parish with 87 percent of the vote, largely because of near unanimous support among African Americans, and recorded 69 percent in St. John the Baptist Parish. The governor topped 60 percent in seven parishes but registered majority support in only 16 local entities.

Conversely, Rispone carried 16 parishes while Rep. Abraham failed to place first anywhere, even throughout his congressional district. In fact, Abraham finished third in all 64 parishes.

Republicans did well in the other statewide races, winning all but one outright, including re-electing attorney general and former Congressman Jeff Landry (66 percent). Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (R) was forced into a run-off, however, after he garnered only 41 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent, Gwen Collins-Greenup, received 34 percent and the remaining 25 percent all went to GOP candidates. Therefore, the run-off outcome could still favor Ardoin. Republicans also gained a super majority in the state Senate and could obtain one in the state House depending upon the outcome of certain November run-off elections.

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