Ralph Abraham: “I Intend To Win”

Immediately after Sen. John Kennedy refused to run for governor of Louisiana in 2019 Monday, the eyes of the Louisiana Republican Party turned to U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, perhaps the highest-profile potential candidate expressing interest in the race. So much so that LAGOP executive director Andrew Bautsch pushed Abraham’s camp for a decision within 48 hours.

The answer came within 72.

Republican Congressman Ralph Abraham has entered the 2019 governor’s race, saying simply, “I intend to win.”

Abraham, the 5th District congressman from Alto, joins wealthy Baton Rouge Republican businessman Eddie Rispone as the announced challengers to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The three-term congressman came out of the chute firing at the incumbent Edwards.

“Louisiana deserves better than what she currently has,” Abraham said in an interview with USA Today Network. “I’m seeing businesses leaving and a governor who has been focused on raising taxes. I intend to do something about that.”

Abraham becomes the Republican frontrunner, though his entry isn’t likely to clear the field of GOP candidates. ISC Constructors founder and CEO Eddie Rispone has already announced his intention to run and bankroll his campaign with $5 million of his own money, and it’s as likely as not that state senator Sharon Hewitt of Slidell will enter the race. We expect there will be at least one more – Public Service Commission chairman Eric Skrmetta might be a possibility, for example.

Abraham’s entry could make for an interesting bit of competition where it comes to campaign staff. Both Abraham and Rispone have worked in the past with Baton Rouge-based political consultant Lionel Rainey, and we understand both are trying to hire him. Rainey was the consultant for Abraham’s recently-concluded re-election campaign, which was run with a certain eye toward building name recognition in the state’s larger southern markets of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

That needed to be done, because Abraham’s district, which snakes from Washington Parish in the southeast to Alexandria in the middle of the state up to its northeast corner, is mostly rural and rather nondescript. The area comprised by the 5th congressional district in Louisiana hasn’t produced a successful gubernatorial candidate since John McKeithen in the mid 1960’s, and Abraham doesn’t start with a whole lot of either money or name ID.

But Abraham’s main opponent in the gubernatorial campaign will be doing everything he can to fix that problem for him, for some strange reason. No sooner did Abraham announce he’d be running this morning but Democrat governor John Bel Edwards levied a rather ugly attack on him…

“On Monday, Rep. Abraham said he couldn’t launch a campaign for governor because it would distract him from important work on the Farm Bill, soybean crisis, looming government shutdown, flood insurance expiration and other issues the people of Louisiana have entrusted him to handle on their behalf,” Edwards said. “None of those issues have been resolved. Now, just a few days later, he’s abandoning those responsibilities along with the congressional office he was re-elected to exactly one month ago. For the sake of the people of Louisiana, it is my hope that he seriously considers whether or not he is capable of running for governor while fulfilling his duties in Washington, D.C.”

That isn’t actually what Abraham said, for one thing, and it’s a bit absurd for another. Every one of the issues Edwards raises will long since have been resolved, if it’s even possible to resolve them, in the first half of the year when the only real work to be done in the gubernatorial campaign will be fundraising and gathering endorsements. Apparently Edwards isn’t aware that congressmen have staffs who do the majority of the work in negotiating and crafting legislation, and those teams can actually walk and chew gum at the same time.

This business of criticizing Abraham for being a sitting congressman running for governor is a staple of Edwards’ – and his allies’ – messaging in the last few days. There was a Twitter fight over the issue which began when Edwards shill Tyler Bridges, of the Baton Rouge Advocate, raised the question in such a way as to impugn Abraham’s honesty…

That brought out another one of Edwards’ shills, political consultant Trey Ourso, using the Gumbo PAC Twitter account…

Rainey fired back at Bridges…

To which Edwards’ official shill Richard Carbo added to the impugnment of Abraham’s character…

Rainey turned the question back to Edwards…

Then Abraham’s spokesman Cole Avery dropped a fact-bomb on Edwards and Bridges…

Former Republican state representative Brett Geymann also jumped in…

The exchange proved more about the distrust of Bridges’ objectivity than it did anything about Abraham’s integrity in running for governor. The fact is that sitting congressmen run for statewide office all the time across the country, and since sitting congressmen are up for re-election every two years it’s hardly a surprise when one announces a gubernatorial run not long after winning re-election. That phenomenon is even more pronounced in Louisiana because our statewide cycle falls in an odd-numbered year, but one reason we chose to stage those elections at that time was to maximize the number of qualified potential candidates – if you don’t have to give up your congressional seat to run for governor, you might be more encouraged to run.

That’s why congressmen like Dave Treen, Buddy Roemer and Bobby Jindal have run for governor and won. It’s also why so many members of the Public Service Commission have become governors as well. This is a feature rather than a bug.

But at least we know what Edwards’ opening argument against Abraham is. Frankly, it isn’t much of one.

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