Trump Visited Louisiana Three Times. It Didn't Help His Pick for Governor

Louisiana's Democratic incumbent governor overtook a challenger who had Trump's personal seal of approval, pointing to a larger trend that should worry the GOP

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Republican candidate for governor, Eddie Rispone, during a rally in Bossier City, Louisiana on November 14, 2019.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Republican candidate for governor, Eddie Rispone, during a rally in Bossier City, Louisiana on November 14, 2019. Credit: AFP

WASHINGTON – The Republican Party suffered a blow in Louisiana, a state that voted for President Donald Trump by a 20 percent margin, in Saturday's gubernatorial election. Louisiana voters chose to re-elect Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards to a second term.

Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, won 51 percent of the vote despite a massive effort by Trump and the Republican party to unseat him.

Businessman Eddie Rispone, the Republican candidate who ran against Edwards, tried to align himself with Trump, who won 58 percent of the 2016 vote in Louisiana and remains popular there, according to recent opinion polls. Rispone attempted to inject national issues like impeachment into the election. Trump himself supported that effort by coming to Louisiana for three different campaign events over the past several weeks, including one on Thursday night, 36 hours before Election Day.

Edwards managed to win Saturday by re-centering the election around local priorities, such as expanding health care in the state, investing in education and reforming the criminal justice system. Edwards is considered a conservative Democrat, and has supported legislation to limit access to abortion. Despite his track record on this issue, Trump and the Republican Party tried to depict him as a radical during the campaign, a portrayal that was rejected by a number of moderate Republican figures in the state who supported Edwards’ candidacy.

On top of Rispone's defeat, the Republican Party in Louisiana failed to win a two-thirds majority in Louisiana’s House of Delegates. This means that Edwards will have the power to veto legislation approved by the regular Republican majority in the state’s legislature, and Republicans won’t be able to override his vetoes.

One major political consequence is that Democrats will have a say in the process of re-drawing the state’s Congressional district boundaries after the 2020 election, and it will be difficult for Republicans to limit Democratic representation in the state.

Louisiana is the second red state in the past two weeks to elect a Democratic governor, despite an attempt by Trump to get involved in local politics. In Kentucky, incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin lost re-election in a tight race against Democratic candidate Andy Beshear on November 5.

Trump campaigned for Bevin a day before the election and pleaded with local voters: “If you lose, it sends a really bad message. They will build it up. They will say, Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me!” The next day, Beshaer defeated Bevin by a margin of 5,000 votes, or 0.4 percent of the total votes cast in the election. Kentucky supported Trump over his rival Hillary Clinton by 30 percent in the 2016 election.

Following Bevin’s loss, Trump and Republican party leaders tried to blame the ousted governor for the loss, highlighting the fact that other Republican candidates easily won in the state. Trump even spread the false claim that Bevin was “down 19% in the polls” before Election Day, and that the president actually “carried him across the finish line.” In reality, the final state-wide polls showed a very close race between Bevin and Beshear, and it was apparent that Trump’s visit to Kentucky was not enough to put the Republican over the top.

Despite Edwards’ and Beshear’s victories, their two states are not expected to be competitive in the 2020 presidential election, and will very likely remain strongly Republican.

However, in both states, suburban areas usually considered GOP strongholds tilted in this year's elections towards the Democrats, signaling a worrisome trend on the national level for the Republican Party ahead of next year’s presidential vote. This was illustrated by Virginia's 2019 election, in which Democrats took the majority in both of the state's legislative chambers for the first time since the early 1990s. Both the state's senate and house of delegates will soon be led by Jewish-American lawmakers from the state's Democratic Party.