There’s Nothing Wrong With Trying To Buy An Election

A minor controversy has broken out after a PAC affiliated with Ralph Abraham’s campaign put out a web message attacking Eddie Rispone for attempting to “buy” the 2019 Louisiana gubernatorial election with what we’re told is $13 million of his own money. Rispone is up on television with two TV spots which are very similar tying himself to President Trump and talking about immigration policy – not something particularly relevant to Louisiana’s position at or near the bottom of public policy metric rankings – and he’s not coming down until Election Day.

In fact, Rispone’s campaign just announced a TV buy of $4 million on top of the $1 million supporting the two ads the campaign has already produced.

Republican candidate for Louisiana governor Eddie Rispone has committed to spending at least $5 million on television ads in the race, seeking to outspend his fellow GOP competitor and blanket the airwaves until Election Day.

The Republican businessman’s campaign said Monday that it has locked in another $4 million in TV ad time, on top of more than $1 million already spent to air its ongoing 30-second spots.

Rispone spokesman Anthony Ramirez said the campaign has made its preliminary ad buys for broadcast, cable and cable sports television and expects to spend even more to stay on television uninterrupted until the Oct. 12 election.

“It’s not our full buy,” Ramirez said in an interview. “We’re going to be buying more, but that’s going to be on a week-to-week basis.”

The wealthy businessman has poured $10 million of his own money into his campaign to defeat incumbent John Bel Edwards, the Deep South’s only Democratic governor.

Rispone, a first-time candidate but longtime political donor, appears to be trying to freeze out fellow GOP contender Ralph Abraham, a three-term congressman with less campaign cash to spend who hasn’t yet launched a TV campaign.

The Abraham narrative that Rispone is trying to buy the election is understandable. It’s accurate. Of course Rispone’s trying to buy the election. Money is the thing he has in the largest quantities; in fact, he has more of it than anybody else in the race. Rispone’s latest campaign finance report showed him with $9.8 million in the bank, which was slightly more than Edwards’ $9.6 million, and Rispone has a deep vault of personal money he can tap into if he needs more.

Why wouldn’t he try to buy the election? And what’s wrong with that?

The thing is, trying to buy the election and actually buying it aren’t the same thing. Louisiana’s voters have to decide whether they’ll buy Rispone in order for a sale to be made.

It’s far too early for anybody to know whether that will happen.

Frankly, we’re not the biggest fans of Rispone’s two ads so far – one reason being that the second ad is almost indistinguishable from the first. The sanctuary city issue in New Orleans is a pretty good one, though it’s somewhat debatable whether New Orleans really fits within the definition of a sanctuary city. And the idea of stopping illegal immigrants from catching welfare benefits in Louisiana is also a good one – except that we’re not sure it’s been established that illegals are truly on the state’s dole. Running on that issue without proving that it’s a problem invites the response from the Edwards camp that you don’t know what you’re talking about, and the state’s media will almost assuredly back him on that contention.

And otherwise, it’s hard to establish that as governor of a state not on the border you could actually do much about illegal immigration.

Obviously, we’re a bit more policy-oriented and a bit more engaged on state political issues than your typical Louisiana voter – so we aren’t the target market for these ads.

Rispone’s campaign, likely fueled by numbers its pollster Tony Fabrizio has generated, is betting so far that the immigration issue will resonate with Louisiana voters anyway because those voters are a lot more interested in, informed about and animated by national political issues than state ones. And they’re likely correct in that assumption. Louisiana’s voters watch the living hell out of Fox News, and there is no longer a major newspaper left in the state. Local TV news barely covers state politics, not even in Baton Rouge. So the Louisiana issues you can really move the state’s voters with are few and far between.

Think about it: what are the big state-politics issues everybody’s talking about in Louisiana?

We’ve droned on and on about Louisiana’s moribund economy and the mass outmigration taking place under John Bel Edwards. That should be a colossal issue in this state and it should make voters ready to gut the governor like a fish. And yet when we polled right track/wrong track in the state, right track is over 50 percent because people are happy with Trump’s economy – even though Louisiana isn’t actually participating in it.

Edwards’ coastal lawsuits ought to be inducing riots in places like Houma and Lafayette, where an entire industry is being put to sleep. Edwards is likely going to get hammered on Election Day in those two places, but the coastal lawsuit issue hasn’t really resonated around the state like you’d expect. People aren’t paying a lot of attention, and the state’s media either supports the coastal lawsuits or barely reports on them.

There is the complete and total incompetence of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and the fact that Edwards’ administration allowed the city of New Orleans to build an entire major airport without even bothering to connect it to I-10. That is the kind of scandalous governmental stupidity which by all rights ought to make the whole state be looking for tar, feathers and a rail, and the bet is when the new airport does finally open and the resulting traffic snarls begin there will be hell to pay. But so far, it’s a blip on the radar screen.

Edwards’ tax increases, and his lying about whether he’d seek them, should be a considerable issue. His Medicaid expansion, which has the state on the road to fiscal ruin, should be a big issue. His insistence on writing employment protections for transgendered people into state contracts, which violates state law and has gotten him a couple of significant beatdowns in court, ought to be an issue.

None of those things have moved the needle much yet.

Now – Rispone has enough money to make them issues if he goes up on TV with ads beating Edwards up about them. We expect he’ll do that, and if and when he does we’re going to warm up to the idea of him buying the election.

As for Abraham, he’s certainly messaged the real state issues more than Rispone has, and that’s one reason why he’s racking up endorsements left and right from political figures around the state – the most recent being from Lance Harris, head of the House Republican delegation. But with only a fraction of Rispone’s TV money he’s not going to have the same megaphone.

Historically, that wouldn’t matter too much. Louisiana’s gubernatorial elections have never really gone to the candidate with the most money. If they did, David Vitter would be your current governor, and he’d be following in the footsteps of people like Buddy Leach and John Georges. It’s usually the underdog from the sticks who wins these races, because the voters are usually looking for the largest departure from the failed status quo they can get.

And these races usually break late. At this time in 1987 nobody thought Buddy Roemer could win, just like nobody thought Kathleen Blanco had much of a shot at this point in 2003. Or Edwards in 2015, or Dave Treen in 1979, or Mike Foster in 1995.

So maybe Rispone will be able to buy the election, or maybe Abraham will be able to hang on to his significant polling advantage over Rispone and advance to the runoff against Edwards. We’d all feel better if Rispone’s ads began sandblasting the incumbent, and it’s a good bet the next round of spots will do precisely that.

When they do, not even Abraham’s PAC will complain.



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