Louisiana Votes For Governor
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Louisiana voters head to the polls to select a governor today. President Trump was in the state this week campaigning for Republican challenger Eddie Rispone. Mr. Trump has framed the race as a referendum on his presidency and urges voters to unseat the incumbent John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. WRKF's Paul Braun reports.
PAUL BRAUN, BYLINE: This will be the third and final governor's race decided in 2019, all three in states that elected Trump by large margins in 2016. And all three were visited by the embattled president, who could use a win ahead of his 2020 bid for reelection. Polls in the state show Governor Edwards, a Democrat, leading by a razor-thin margin. Trump is hoping he can change that.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you have a chance to elect a true Louisiana champion, Eddie Rispone, a real success, by the way.
TRUMP: Got to get out. You got to get out.
BRAUN: Two weeks ago, a Republican won the open seat in the Mississippi governor's mansion. But in Kentucky, a Democrat ousted Republican incumbent Matt Bevin, as Trump reminded the crowd during his visit to Louisiana this week.
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TRUMP: And he lost by just a few thousand votes. And the headlines the next day, Trump took a loss. I lift him up a lot. So Trump took a loss. So you got to give me a big win, please, OK? OK?
JENNIFER DUFFY: Judging by the latest Republican messages, I would say they're a little bit worried. The volume and the tenor went way up very quickly.
BRAUN: Jennifer Duffy is senior editor at The Cook Political Report. She says after Kentucky, Trump and Republicans want to stop the bleeding with a win in Louisiana. And they're willing to pay big money to do it. Rispone, a longtime power donor to Louisiana Republicans, has seen a significant increase in contributions since he won a spot in the runoff. And the Baton Rouge businessman has loaned his own campaign more than $12 million so far. He is flooding the airwaves with campaign ads linking himself to President Trump. Louisiana State University political science professor Robert Hogan says that could pay off.
ROBERT HOGAN: This is a state where politicians are a form of entertainment, if you will. And so they like the idea of the outsider. That's why that - a businessman, like Trump, who's never run for office before, did so well in the election.
BRAUN: Edwards is on pace to spend just as much money as his Republican opponent. But the incumbent has taken a decidedly different approach. He has desperately tried to steer the discussion in the race away from national politics and downplay his party affiliation. He is not a typical Democrat, and he can't be in a state like Louisiana. Edwards is an unwavering supporter of gun rights. And in May, he signed one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country.
MIKE HENDERSON: He's not going to give a lot of ground on social issues.
BRAUN: That's Mike Henderson, also of Louisiana State University.
HENDERSON: So he's going to talk about surpluses. He's going to talk about budget stability. He's going to talk about Medicaid expansion - no more people are covered.
BRAUN: It all hinges on who shows up today. Overall, elections officials are predicting the largest turnout for a governor's race in years. Jennifer Duffy with Cook Political says, at this point, anything could happen.
DUFFY: Republicans had a goal for the three governors' races on the ballot. They wanted a clean sweep.
BRAUN: So a second term for Edwards would be a particularly bitter pill for a president who had so much invested in this year's elections and could leave Democrats and Republicans alike speculating on what that might mean for Trump's odds in 2020. For NPR News, I'm Paul Braun in Baton Rouge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.