It was a thin margin, but Gov. John Bel Edwards won reelection last month, beating Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone in a nail-biting runoff. After the polls closed Nov. 16 and results started coming in, it seemed like anybody’s game.
But by 10 p.m., the final holdout precincts in East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes pushed Edwards over the line.
In the end, 40,340 votes separated Edwards and Rispone in a race that saw around 50% turnout.
It was a hotly contested election that most assumed would find Edwards facing off against Ralph Abraham in a runoff. The veteran congressman had the support of GOP leadership, but Rispone surprised everyone to jump ahead and secure a second place spot against Edwards.
Rispone touted his outsider status and aligned himself with President Donald Trump. He quickly got the endorsement of Abraham and many other Republican politicians. Trump made three visits to Louisiana in hopes of firing up the base—and Vice President Mike Pence visited as well. Trump had already been dealt a blow in Kentucky, where he held a rally before its gubernatorial election and the Republican candidate still failed to win. And in an attempt to drum up support for Rispone, Trump pleaded with a Bossier City crowd just two days before the election saying, “You’ve got to give me a big win, please. OK?”
While national media was quick to paint Edwards’ win in a deep-red state as another sign of Trump’s waning popularity among Republicans, it’s a little more nuanced than that. Edwards is the lone Democrat governor in the Deep South, but he’s very much a moderate—having signed a six-week abortion ban and a “Blue Lives Matter” bill in his first term.
But he’s also made some widely popular moves, such as expanding Medicaid to cut the state’s number of uninsured in half, and giving teachers a pay raise. He also got the Republican-controlled state legislature to pass a sales tax hike that pulled the state out of a financial hole left by his predecessor, Gov. Bobby Jindal.
In the end, his governing style seems to have paid off. At his campaign party at the Renaissance Hotel, Edwards thanked Rispone for pursuing public service. “It’s a difficult thing for anyone to do,” he said. He also briefly addressed Trump’s recent visits to the state, saying, “And as for the president, God bless his heart.”
Edwards’ win also creates a tough situation for Republicans in the state legislature, who were unable to grab enough seats in the election to get a supermajority. That means Edwards will maintain veto power as we head into the 2020 census and new legislative and congressional districts are drawn.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D)
51% | 774,476 votes
Eddie Rispone (R)
49% | 734,136 votes
In East Baton Rouge Parish, Edwards got 66% of the vote to Rispone’s 34%. But by far, Edwards’ largest win was in Orleans Parish, where he received 90% of the vote to Rispone’s 10%.
This article was originally published in the December 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.