The Center Square
President Donald Trump visited Louisiana once again Thursday, two days before Republicans will try to unseat the only incumbent Democratic governor in the Deep South.
John Bel Edwards is trying to hold off businessman Eddie Rispone, a first-time candidate. Republicans hope to avoid losing another race for governor in a Southern state Trump won easily, following the narrow defeat of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin last week.
Trump’s appearance in Bossier City was his third trip to Louisiana during the state’s campaign season and the second since Rispone edged out fellow Republican Congressman Ralph Abraham for a spot in Saturday’s runoff. Though Louisiana has no other Democratic statewide officials, Edwards is relatively popular for a Democrat in a red state and polls indicate a very tight race.
“You gotta vote on Saturday,” Trump said. “You have a chance to elect a true Louisiana champion, Eddie Rispone.”
Trump urged voters to replace “radical liberal John Bel Edwards” with Rispone and “send a message to the corrupt Democrats in Washington, D.C.” He claimed Edwards supports impeachment and “radical, pro-abortion policies,” though Edwards has said he opposes impeachment and this year signed one of the strictest anti-abortion bills in the nation.
“Louisiana, we are Trump country!” Rispone declared.
Rispone echoed Trump’s call to send a message to national Democrats by electing a Republican.
“[Edwards] has passed the highest tax in the history of Louisiana,” Rispone said. “He’s attacked the oil and gas industry, where we’ve lost thousands of jobs.”
Edwards portrayed Trump’s visit as a sign of weakness for Rispone’s campaign, saying the candidate needs the president to “prop him up.”
“Obviously he’s trying to nationalize the race because that’s the only shot he has,” Edwards said. “He cannot win this race based on Louisiana issues because he hasn’t demonstrated any knowledge about how state government works.”
Edwards gave a press conference in Shreveport Thursday surrounded by depictions of tweets by the White House communications office, sent the last time Trump was headed for Louisiana, describing the state’s economy as “booming,” with rising wages and low unemployment. The White House credited the booming economy to the president, not Edwards.
Edwards has boasted that Louisiana’s economy has flourished during his administration. Critics have said Edwards was overstating the strength of the state’s economy. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis initially indicated Louisiana’s GDP grew 3.8 percent in the first quarter of 2019. But an updated report revised the previous estimate for the first quarter down to zero.
Edwards described himself as being “squarely in the middle of the political spectrum.” He blamed the oil industry’s struggles on low oil prices but said the state’s natural gas production is booming. Edwards also has encouraged lawsuits by coastal parishes against oil and gas companies for alleged environmental damages.
As he has throughout the campaign, he portrayed Rispone as a throwback to former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who “left our state deep in the ditch” with a $2 billion deficit.
“We’re doing much better now,” he said.
A reporter asked Edwards what he would say to those who plan to attend Trump’s rally.
“Have a good time, and then vote for me on Saturday,” he responded.