- John Bel Edwards narrowly won re-election Saturday night by about 40,000 votes and became the first Democrat to do so as governor of Louisiana since 1975.
- Edwards defeated Eddie Rispone, an outsider candidate backed by President Donald Trump – the second Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate to lose in a red state in a month, after Kentucky’s governor race.
- As a conservative Democrat, Edwards has been controversial among his more progressive base. He is pro-life and pro-guns, and signed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in 2019.
- The Louisiana gubernatorial race pitted a “common sense” moderate candidate against a Trump-adjacent wild card, and while the results were narrow, Edwards ultimately came out on top with a blended approach.
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A tightly contested race for governor of Louisiana ended in John Bel Edwards’ re-election late Saturday night, by about 40,000 votes. Edwards, a conservative Democrat, was challenged by an outsider backed by President Donald Trump.
Not only is Edwards a unique politician who strays from the Democratic party platform, but the Louisiana gubernatorial race, preceded by Kentucky’s earlier in November, suggests that Trump’s endorsement isn’t enough – even for Republican candidates in red states.
Edwards is a unique Democratic candidate who first ran for governor in 2015 on a platform of “common sense and compassion.”
Louisiana is a red state that Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016, but its statewide government is mixed. Edwards is the first Democratic governor to win re-election since 1975, and he is currently the only statewide elected Democrat.
Part of Edwards’ appeal stems from his more conservative leanings. On issues like abortion and gun ownership, he strays to the right of his Democratic peers. For example, in 2019, Edwards signed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in the country.
Edwards has compared himself to Trump on gun control, saying that he doesn’t support background checks on all gun purchases, but just commercial ones, according to Louisiana’s The Advocate.
He’s had to prove to his more progressive base that he still fights for them, too.
After signing the restrictive “fetal heartbeat” bill that would ban abortion once the fetus’ heartbeat could be detected, Edwards faced backlash from his more progressive base.
The controversial bill signage prompted him to release a statement pointing out that he has championed other progressive causes, like signing an executive order to protect LGBT people from harassment or job dismissals.
Edwards also expanded Medicaid and worked to reduce the prison population in Louisiana, more traditional Democratic policies. But his balancing act, which included him promising to work with Trump and the Trump administration, has won him conservative support, too.
Edwards’ base even includes some Republicans.
Louisiana has been plagued for years by budget deficits, and Edwards was more than willing to cross party lines to negotiate cuts. He appointed a Republican who was a former rival of his as commissioner of his administration.
Edwards also believes in having a Republican voice in his major policy decisions, and his administration includes several senior officials who are Republicans, along with appointees left over from his Republican predecessors.
“I think there are some in my party who believe that the current dysfunction in the Republican Party and the low approval ratings of our president means that we’re going to automatically be successful going forward. I reject that idea,” Edwards told Governing in January 2018.
“It means that we have the opportunity to be successful. But we have to go out and seize the middle of the political spectrum. You don’t get it by simply not being a Republican.”
The Republican gubernatorial candidate was endorsed by Trump and had a lot of Trump-like qualities.
Edwards, in addition to his mixed stance on issues, had a traditional political background. He attended the United States Military Academy and served in the US Army for eight years before becoming an attorney.
Louisiana politics can be unpredictable. Edwards won his first gubernatorial election in large part because his opponent, then-US Senator David Vitter, was accused of hiring a prostitute in the early 2000s. That’s the environment that Trump was trying to make headway in.
His opposition, Eddie Rispone, does not have a traditional background in politics. Rather, he founded a construction company that has annual revenues of $350 million. Rispone also chaired the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council under former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who Edwards was critical of.
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Edwards also had a legislative career before becoming governor in 2015.
Edwards first ran for office in 2017, winning a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives. He was the only freshman lawmaker to chair a committee – the Veterans Affairs Committee. Edwards was also selected as chairman of the Democratic house caucus.
Early struggles as a Democratic governor in a state with a legislative Republican majority included Edwards trying and failing to persuade the Louisiana House to choose a Democratic Speaker. Since the 1920s, Louisiana governors had traditionally handpicked Speakers.
Edwards’ most recent win may be part of a larger trend that looks bad for Trump.
On Nov. 5, Kentucky’s gubernatorial race ended with the red state’s Democratic attorney general, Andy Beshear, beating the incumbent Governor Matt Bevin, who was endorsed by Trump in addition to Rispone.
The two high-profile gubernatorial losses for Trump candidates in red states that voted for Trump in the 2016 election could indicate that his pull is waning in light of his first term.
In addition to those two gubernatorial races, Democrats flipped suburban Delaware County in Pennsylvania, which had been red since the Civil War. It’s unclear just how much these races have to say about the 2020 election, but the Democratic wins in red states don’t look good for Trump.
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