We’ve said this again and again, most recently following Sen. John Kennedy’s decision not to run for governor against John Bel Edwards – history and public opinion do not favor Edwards’ re-election.
There hasn’t been a Democrat governor of Louisiana who won re-election since Edwin Edwards in 1975, and that was when Louisiana was a one-party state and there was an economic boom afoot due to a shortage of oil. Furthermore, contested gubernatorial elections in Louisiana are usually won by candidates who don’t enter the race as odds-on favorites – so when the media tells you Candidate X has no shot to win, just remember that’s what they said about Dave Treen in 1979, Buddy Roemer in 1987, Mike Foster in 1995, Kathleen Blanco in 2003 and John Bel Edwards in 2015.
Not to mention that poll after poll has shown that despite approval ratings sometimes higher than 50 percent (though more commonly in the high 40’s, per most polls of recent vintage), Edwards’ re-elect numbers are almost universally weak. When The Hayride partnered with Remington Research in late September to poll the governor’s re-election chances, the respondents to our poll showed him at 43 percent. He did worse than that, scoring only 35 percent for re-election against a generic Republican in a SurveyUSA poll released in late June by Kennedy’s camp.
Both our poll in September and Kennedy’s SurveyUSA poll in June showed little difference in performance by Edwards against Kennedy compared to against a generic Republican, which we took to bolster our theory that all it really takes to beat the incumbent Democrat is one Republican the party’s voters can unite behind – Edwards has support among the 15 percent of the state’s voters who are “soft Republicans,” but that support is paper-thin and subject to disappearing virtually anytime.
Well, this morning Remington Research, the same firm we did our poll in September with, released a survey it performed Tuesday and Wednesday on behalf of Ralph Abraham’s camp. And here are some key findings from that poll…
Survey conducted December 11 through December 12, 2018. 1,680 likely 2019 General Election voters participated in the survey. Survey-weighted to match expected turnout demographics for the 2019 General Election. Margin of Error is +/-2.4%. Totals do not always equal 100% due to rounding.
Q1: Do you think Louisiana is headed in the right direction or is it on the wrong track?
Right direction: 42%
Wrong track: 43%
Not sure: 15%
Q2: What is your opinion of Donald Trump?
No opinion: 8%
Q3: What is your opinion of John Bel Edwards?
No opinion: 14%
Q4: What is your opinion of Eddie Rispone?
No opinion: 75%
Q5: What is your opinion of Ralph Abraham?
No opinion: 59%
Q6: Announced candidates in the 2019 election for Governor of Louisiana are Democrat John Bel Edwards, Republican Eddie Rispone and Republican Ralph Abraham. If the election were held today, for whom would you vote?
John Bel Edwards: 43%
Eddie Rispone: 9%
Ralph Abraham: 31%
Q7: If the 2019 election for Governor of Louisiana were held today, and the candidates were just Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican Eddie Rispone, for whom would you vote?
John Bel Edwards: 46%
Eddie Rispone: 39%
Q8: If the 2019 election for Governor of Louisiana were held today, and the candidates were just Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican Ralph Abraham, for whom would you vote?
John Bel Edwards: 44%
Ralph Abraham: 44%
Q10: Are you definitely voting for John Bel Edwards or would you consider voting for another Democratic candidate? [DEMOCRATIC PARTY ID RESPONDENTS ONLY]
Definitely Edwards: 53%
Consider another Democrat: 25%
Not voting for a Democrat: 15%
Not sure: 7%
Abraham’s quote in the poll release…
“Two things are clear from this poll: John Bel Edwards is a one-term governor, and I’m the man who can take him down. I said last week that I intended to win, and I meant it,” Abraham said. “I can’t wait to hit the campaign trail and meet as many folks as possible from across Louisiana.”
The takeaways from these numbers? Here are a few.
First, let’s remember John Bel Edwards gets nothing but positive notices from Louisiana’s media. Just this morning he was on a sports talk show in Baton Rouge talking about how big an LSU fan he is, and that follows a pair of recent stories in The Advocate (1) talking about all the Republican bigwigs who are in his re-election camp (which as Conrad Appel pointed out was completely misleading, given that the people named in the story were all bigwigs bought off with LSU Board of Supervisors appointments and other patronage) and (2) touting him as a big pal of President Trump’s and a Democrat Trump voters can get behind.
With that kind of over-the-top sycophantic media treatment you’d expect Edwards to be untouchable and voters to be happy. Except the folks aren’t buying it much, as that 42-43 right-track/wrong-track number suggests and his 46-40 approval-disapproval number also shows. That 40 percent disapproval is the highest we’ve seen in any poll; previously it had been mostly in the low 30’s. Our take from that is the voters are beginning to engage in the topic of Edwards’ re-election and aren’t too pleased with what they see – and it’s doubtful he’s going to get any friendlier coverage with two Republican candidates increasingly attempting to own every news cycle by messaging criticisms of his job performance for the next 10 months.
Abraham is doing a little better than Rispone is so far, and that’s almost entirely due to the fact he has a little more name recognition. Not a lot, though – 59 percent of the voters don’t know who Abraham is and 75 don’t know who Rispone is. Of course, Rispone can fix that with the massive war chest he can stock with his own money; a good month or so of biographical ads early next year shrinks that 75 percent down to 35 percent and probably puts him in an advantageous position against Edwards, just as it ought to be expected Abraham’s coming campaign will do. That Edwards can’t get above 46 percent against a candidate three quarters of the voters know nothing about is an exceptionally bad sign.
But what’s probably worst here where Edwards’ re-election is concerned is that last number. He’s only got commitments from 53 percent of Democrat voters, and a full quarter of them say they’d rather vote for somebody else. Bear in mind a couple of things – first, there’s that Advocate article talking about how Trump-friendly Edwards is, and the way that piece was written invited the reader to believe this was some huge asset for Edwards. It isn’t; Democrat voters in Louisiana intensely dislike Trump, in large measure because Democrat politicians those voters listen to won’t shut up about how terrible the president is. When Cedric Richmond, who as the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Karen Carter Peterson, who chairs the Louisiana Democrat Party, spend every waking hour calling Trump a racist and a criminal, how does it help Edwards with Louisiana’s black voters to be seen as pals with Trump? Not to mention that white liberals, who as we’ve noted are about 10 percent of the state’s electorate, hate Trump even worse than black voters do.
The 38 percent of the people in this poll who give Trump an unfavorable are almost all voters Edwards has to have or else he’s dead in the water. And yet he’s got 25 percent of his own party who would vote for a different Democrat and another 7 percent who aren’t sure, which means a solid third of his voters aren’t sure he’s their man. Then there’s the 15 percent of the voters who are registered Democrats but don’t vote Democrat anymore – some of those people probably did vote for Edwards in 2015 but apparently aren’t impressed with his record running the state.
Those numbers are bad, but it’s what they portend which is worse. Because what can very easily happen – and it’s going to be worth watching as next year’s legislative session gets going how this plays out – is that a black Democrat decides to run against Edwards and does to him what Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne did to David Vitter in 2015.
Let’s remember that this year, Renee Fontenot Free was supposed to be the Democrats’ candidate for Secretary of State, and Free could well have been a formidable runoff opponent to Kyle Ardoin. Except that Gwen Collins-Greenup, who had no resume, no money and no campaign at all other than the fact she was a black Democrat, blew Free away with Democrat voters in the primary and replaced her as that party’s runoff candidate. Most of the Democrats’ voters in Louisiana are black, and most of the Democrats’ officeholders in Louisiana are black. And here is Edwards, who has already set himself at odds with the legislative black caucus repeatedly over the past three years as he’s attempted to deal them out of budget and tax negotiations, getting his media friends to put it out there that he’s a Trump guy when black voters generally hate that. Collins-Greenup confirmed that you don’t have to have any money to rack up votes from black Democrats in Louisiana statewide races, which is something Derrick Edwards proved from a wheelchair in the 2017 Treasurer’s special election race.
What to watch at the legislature next spring is whether the black caucus decides to use the leverage this gives them against him. If one of their number or constituents should announce a gubernatorial run, or an exploratory committee, or even make a private threat of running with the support of the caucus, it’s going to set Edwards to scrambling to repair relations with them. And what of their agenda will he have to get behind in order to do that?
The answer is such a leftward lurch, whatever it might be, is most certainly not going to endear Edwards to the Republican voter majority in Louisiana, and he’s in the makings of a fairly small box for re-election.
That box is only going to get smaller as the campaign begins, and Edwards is sitting at 44 against Abraham and 46 against Rispone when most of the voters don’t know anything about either one.
Which leads us to our final takeaway: given all of the above, it’s only a matter of time before Edwards goes all out to savage both of his Republican challengers and attempt to define them negatively with voters who don’t know anything about them. He has to in order to have any chance of re-election, because he’s tied with the Congressman and leads by only seven against Rispone and neither one is a name brand yet. Abraham and Rispone had better be ready, because before they know it they’re going to be The Worst People On Earth. This is going to become a very nasty, ugly street brawl, and soon.