It really came down to the wire last night, but Louisiana Republicans have failed to rid themselves of the only Democrat holding statewide office. In a race where President Trump took a very personal interest, Governor John Bel Edwards eeked out a victory with less than a two percent margin. So should we be looking at this as some sort of bellwether race or is it just business as usual in Louisiana? We’ll get to that in a moment. (NBC News)
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is projected to narrowly win a second term as Louisiana governor, beating Republican challenger Eddie Rispone by 1.4 percentage points and delivering another blow in off-cycle elections to President Donald Trump.
Edwards was up by over 19,000 votes with 96% of precincts reporting Saturday night, according to the Associated Press.
Edwards’ victory in a state that Trump carried in 2016 by nearly 20 percentage points highlights the limitations of nationalizing local races. Rispone, a wealthy businessman and long-time Republican donor, tied himself to Trump. He often railed against illegal immigrants on the campaign trail and portrayed Edwards as a “liberal, socialist-leaning governor.”
This is being portrayed in all the usual media outlets as a “blow to Donald Trump.” So is it? It’s true that Trump made three trips down there in the past month, holding rallies to get out the vote for Eddie Rispone. And Rispone definitely overperformed compared to David Vitter four years ago. (Not that much of a feat when you consider that Vitter was embroiled in a prostitution scandal at the time.)
But this isn’t something that can be categorized neatly into one box or the other. When I wrote about the runoff election last month, we discussed all of the complicating factors. One question was whether or not there would be any damaging oppo coming out about Rispone, who is a political neophyte. Nothing serious showed up, so that clearly wasn’t the cause of Edwards’ victory.
So was this a case of voters sending a message to Trump and the GOP? Or a demographic shift in the electorate perhaps? Republicans once again took every other statewide race and kept control of the legislature, so those theories look pretty shaky as well.
In the end, it may have just come down to a case of Edwards being Edwards and sticking with a winning formula. It’s not as if Edwards pushes a bunch of liberal and/or socialist policies. Anywhere else in the country you could easily mistake John Bel Edwards for a Republican. He’s conservative enough that most other Democrats don’t want to be seen in the same room with him. And for whatever reason, roughly half of Louisiana’s voters seem to genuinely like him and don’t have a problem with the job he’s been doing. Let’s not forget that incumbency still carries a lot of weight in any election.
Trump put in the effort to help drag Rispone over the finish line, but the Republican came up roughly 20,000 votes short. Last time around, Edwards won by eleven points, but this year that margin was cut down to just a bit over one percent. So you can choose to say that Trump boosted Rispone’s numbers significantly, but not quite enough or you can paint it as Trump failing to deliver. Pick your own poison in terms of which news networks to watch today and you’ll be able to find either conclusion.