Can We Please Stop With The Republican Negativity About The Louisiana Governor’s Race?

There are a lot of you out there, some of whom I have been talking with in the past few days, who call yourselves conservatives or Republicans and are in dire need of an attitude adjustment.

I say this because you continue to tell me – and I follow this stuff far more closely than you do – that neither Eddie Rispone nor Ralph Abraham can beat John Bel Edwards. That is utterly and completely untrue, and it’s long past time for you to dump that negative mentality and get engaged.

How many reasons do you need to get your mind right on this issue? I can be here all day with them.

First, there is the history. When was the last time a Democrat governor was re-elected in Louisiana? That would be 1975 – 44 years ago. More than half of you weren’t even alive back then. I was five myself.

And in 1975 you had three circumstances which are not currently in force. First, there was no functional Republican Party in Louisiana back then, so if you were a Democrat governor you controlled virtually everything that mattered in Louisiana politics. Second, the governor in office getting re-elected in 1975 was Edwin Edwards, the most talented politician this state has produced since Huey Long (which is not a judgement on his moral fiber or his ability to govern, which were as deficient as his ability to bullshit the public was impressive). And third, in 1975 Louisiana was riding an economic wave built on a nationwide energy shortage at a time when oil and gas was king both onshore and offshore in the state.

None of those things are operative now. For all its faults the LAGOP is a far stronger force in Louisiana politics than the state Democrat Party is, and it certainly is more of a factor than it was in 1975. John Bel Edwards is no Edwin Edwards – Edwin might have functioned on a diet of graft and corruption, but he did manage to get things done that he wanted, while the current governor’s list of accomplishments is shockingly meager. And instead of a boom, Louisiana has by a number of metrics the worst-performing economy in the nation at present.

Since 1975, most Democrat incumbents have been in such bad shape they couldn’t even run again. Edwin Edwards was up for re-election in 1987, finished second to Buddy Roemer in the primary and didn’t bother contesting the runoff. Roemer, who switched to the GOP at the end of his term, lost to Edwards and David Duke in the primary and sat out the 1991 runoff. And Edwards’ ensuing fourth term as governor went so badly he “retired” rather than attempt re-election in 1995; not long after that he ended up in federal prison. Kathleen Blanco, who was elected in 2003, fared so poorly, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 arrival in New Orleans, that she also didn’t bother attempting re-election.

You don’t think Ralph Abraham or Eddie Rispone have the stature to take down an incumbent governor? Really? Take a look at who’s been winning Louisiana governor’s races for the last half-century.

Dave Treen was a congressman from Metairie almost nobody knew in 1979 other than he was the only Republican in the race, and Louisiana voters were starting to take a look at the GOP due to the abject failure of Jimmy Carter in the White House at that time. Treen managed to win because the Democrat establishment split between Louis Lambert and Jimmy Fitzmorris, and Fitzmorris essentially pulled a Jay Dardenne by backing Treen in the runoff – making him governor in a shocking upset.

Then came Roemer, who was a little-known congressman from Shreveport whose name was known only because his father Charles had been an Edwards lieutenant (and had, like Edwards would, ended up in the Big House). He caught fire at the end of a race populated by much bigger names – Edwards, Bob Livingston, Billy Tauzin and Jim Brown among them – and won with just 33 percent in the primary thanks to Edwards dropping out.

In 1995 it was Mike Foster, who was a mere state senator from down in the bayous in Franklin with next to zero name ID around Louisiana. Foster had been a Democrat, switched parties to Republican at qualifying, positioned himself as a businessman and donned a welder’s hat for his TV commercials and knocked off Roemer and Mary Landrieu on his way to a runoff spot with Cleo Fields that he was sure to win. He went from nobody to governor in three months and served two terms.

Then came Blanco in 2003, who was the state’s Lt. Governor but still wasn’t a big name in that race. Jindal was assured of one runoff spot as the GOP’s wunderkind, but the other was supposed to go to then-Attorney General Richard Ieyoub. Blanco sneaked past Ieyoub, Buddy Leach (who a lot of people thought was her stalking horse; he spent millions of his own money attacking Ieyoub), Hunt Downer and Randy Ewing into the runoff with just 18 percent before beating Jindal in a close runoff to win.

And now John Bel Edwards, a lowly back-bench state representative from podunk Amite, Louisiana whom nobody saw winning in 2015.

Is that enough history to make you understand that the rube from the sticks wins Louisiana gubernatorial elections more often than not?

Do Abraham and Rispone not have enough money to win? Well, Edwards is sitting on at least $8 million based on his last campaign finance report and that’s more money than either of the Republicans have, but it doesn’t really matter – by the time this race is in full flower there will be $15-20 million spent on each side what with the third-party dollars and national cash flowing in. And Rispone already has $5 million of his own money invested – Edwards’ campaign war chest won’t stop him from winning.

As for Abraham, he’s apparently going to show $1 million in the bank in two weeks when he releases his next finance report. That would indicate he’s raised more money than either Rispone or Edwards in the first quarter – unless something changes. That million dollars is more than John Bel Edwards had at this point four years ago. It’s enough for Abraham to work with at this point in the race.

Is Edwards not beatable? How many times do we have to discuss the polling in the race so far?

Edwards is no longer polling above 50 percent on approval, and his re-elect numbers are consistently in the mid-40’s. Those aren’t winning numbers – they show weakness, particularly for a Democrat governor of a red state.

And those polls, for some reason I can’t understand, all seem to oversample Democrat voters.

When Education Reform Now Action, the Democrat group which seems to be serving as Edwards’ national third party proxy, put out their poll in January they had Democrats making up a bizarre 53 percent of the sample. That we could put down to a partisan push-poll; Democrats were only 46 percent of the November 2015 electorate which put Edwards in office, and there isn’t a shred of evidence since then – and we’ve had statewide elections every single year in that time – to indicate anything other than a shrinking of the Democrat voting base between then and now.

Edwards couldn’t get better than 47 percent against Abraham or Rispone in head-to-head matchups in the Education Reform Now Action poll despite 53 percent of the sample being Democrat voters.

Nor did he fare any better in the Remington Research poll the Abraham campaign put out last month. In that poll Edwards was only 47-45 up on Abraham and 48-42 ahead of Rispone. You’d mark that down as a partisan poll going the opposite way, but then again the Remington Research poll had 50 percent of its sample being Democrat voters.

Again, the high-water mark for Democrat share of the statewide electorate in recent years is 46 percent in the 2015 gubernatorial runoff. If you normalize the results in the Remington Research poll for a 46 percent Democrat sample Ralph Abraham is beating John Bel Edwards in that poll and Rispone is essentially tied.

Which is a major criticism I have of Abraham’s camp, frankly. Sure, for your own purposes you run a poll based on a worst-case scenario so as to build in some margin of error in your campaign plans – but if you’re going to release a poll to the public and you can plausibly do so while showing your candidate ahead, then by all means you ought to do so. When you can show potential donors “Hey, we’re already beating this guy and we’ve barely started our campaign,” then you’re going to raise more money and get more media attention than if you release one showing you’re close.

But that’s a minor quibble, and maybe an independent poll with a more realistic sample will show a result proving where the race really is.

The point is, both of these guys are doing fine. Rispone on Friday has a hilarious billboard going up along I-10 as it comes into Baton Rouge from the west, where traffic is usually snarled for hours every day – insuring that people will get a damn good look at it.

And it’s a great message that speaks to something voters all know…

Abraham, meanwhile, just put out a web ad we like a lot…

There’s a bit of a Buddy Roemer style to this thing, though Roemer – by the time he’d made his move in 1987 – had a harder edge to him than Doc does so far. I imagine he’ll get there – his team is in the midst of a daily all-out war on social media with Edwards’ camp and the third-party Gumbo PAC people backing the governor, and the elbows are getting sharper in that fight all the time.

All of which goes to show that (1) it’s way too early to predict how this race will go and (2) there is absolutely zero reason for Republicans to concede anything to Edwards based on the past or the present.

So shut up about Edwards getting re-elected, unless that’s what you want. Your negativity is useless to a state which needs a change in the governor’s mansion in the worst way.

Interested in more national news? We've got you covered! See More National News
Previous Article
Next Article