MONROE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – With Election Day just 10 days away in Louisiana, President Donald Trump spoke before an enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd at the Monroe Civic Center Wednesday night in hopes of drumming up enough support for GOP challenger Eddie Rispone to incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards from winning a second term in office.
President Trump took the stage at 7:44 p.m. to raucous cheers from a packed arena, leading off with a reference to Louisiana’s high early voting turnout and urging the crowd to get out early and vote to replace the state’s “radical” Democratic governor.
The president spoke for about 36 minutes before bringing Rispone on stage, saying the Baton Rouge businessman plans to cut taxes if elected, but provided no specifics.
“Eddie Rispone is not a career politician. He’s a man of faith and a lifelong Louisiana patriot. He will cut your taxes and regulations, he will cut your car insurance in half.”
Trump told the friendly audience that a vote for Rispone is a vote for his agenda, which he said Democrats have tried to hamstring through an impeachment inquiry.
“The American people are fed up with Democrat lies, hoaxes, smears, slanders and scams. The Democrats’ shameful conduct has created an angry majority. And that’s what we are,” Trump said. “We’re a majority, and we’re angry, that will vote the do-nothing Democrats out of office in 2020.”
Trump stuck to many of his regular rally taking points, the economy, his opposition of open borders and how he feels the media is an enemy of his administration, but he did touch on issues specific to Louisiana, including car insurance rates, crime, and how he feels the state’s economy is performing.
While attacking Democrats for everything from “seeking to overturn millions of ballots” with their vote last week to proceed with impeachment hearings to wanting open borders, Trump told the crowd, “The Democrats want open borders. They want sanctuary cities. You’re not too big into sanctuary cities. With John Bel Edwards, you will soon have a sanctuary city in your midst.”
Edwards, a former state lawmaker and military veteran, has downplayed national issues in favor of a defense of his own performance. Both anti-abortion and pro-gun, Edwards in many ways doesn’t match the platform of the national Democratic Party. But he holds positions that helped him draw support in 2015 from the Republican and independent voters he needs to win again.
After asking the crowd just how a “liberal like John Bel Edwards” got elected in Louisiana in the first place, Trump followed up by saying, “Congratulations, your car insurance is the highest in the world, your taxes are horrible. You’re rated number 50 in economic development. Can you believe it? With all that we’re doing, you’re rated 50 out of 50.” On crime, the president joked about not wanting to broach the subject before saying, “Please turn off those television cameras immediately. I don’t wanna say it, I don’t wanna say it. They have the highest murder rate in the country.” The crowd cheered.
Trump claimed Gov. Edwards broke a promise “when he rammed through the largest tax hike in Louisiana history,” adding, “I gave you the greatest tax reduction in the country’s history, greater than Ronald’s Reagan’s.”
For his part, Rispone sought to frame himself as a different kind governor, “someone who is not beholden to special interests, someone like Trump!”
Also taking the stage Wednesday night were Republican Louisiana Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy.
“Unless you’re happy with crappy, I want you to vote for Eddie Rispone for governor,” Kennedy told the cheering crowd. “And I want you to vote for Kyle Ardoin for Secretary of State, and I want you – and this is important – I want you to vote for Robert Mills for Louisiana Senate!”
Trump is visiting the heart of the congressional district represented by Republican Ralph Abraham, the third-place finisher in the gubernatorial primary. Both Rispone and Edwards are competing for Abraham’s voters. Polls show a tight race, with few undecided and both campaigns hoping Trump will mobilize voters in their bases.
Abraham also spoke briefly, telling the crowd, “Let’s get this thing done, put the horse in the barn, and go win a ballgame!”
Trump was also joined by Louisiana’s two Republican senators and two of its biggest TV celebrities: “Duck Dynasty” star Willie and Phil Robertson.
“I got it down to this,” said Phil Robertson. “If you are pro-God and pro-America and pro-gun and pro-duck hunting, that’s all I want.”
It was the president’s second visit to Louisiana since October 11, when he hosted an election-eve rally in Lake Charles seeking to block Edwards from a primary victory in the gubernatorial race. But it won’t be his last. Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson (R) confirmed Wednesday morning that Trump will be coming to Shreveport-Bossier for yet another rally at the CenturyLink Center to stump for Rispone on November 14, and Trump confirmed it during his speech Wednesday night.
Early voting ends Saturday in the Nov. 16 election.
Air Force One landed just before 7 p.m. at Monroe Reginal Airport, nearly an hour later than scheduled. The rally was originally set to begin at 7 p.m.
By 6 p.m., crowds had filled most of the 7,500 available seats at the Monroe Civic Center, many of whom arrived had been waiting for hours by the time the president arrived at the airport.
The president is hoping to muster votes for Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and keep Democrat John Bel Edwards from a second term in a crimson state Trump won by 20 percentage points.
The rally is in Louisiana’s Congressional District 5, which is represented by Ralph Abraham, who was Rispone’s Republican challenger in the primary. District 5 will prove crucial on election night. How those who once supported Abraham ultimately vote could very well decide who becomes the next governor of the state.
Wednesday’s rally wasn’t scheduled to begin until 7 p.m. at the Monroe Civic Center, but some supporters of President Trump were already camped out Tuesday night. By 11 a.m. Wednesday, hundreds were lining up and the crowds continued to grow. Among them, vendors selling Trump gear and 2020 re-election flags.
Thousands attended the rally and early arrivals indicated they came from all over Louisiana and beyond.
Bruce Carter arrived Tuesday from Atlanta, Georgia.
“Yeah, I got here early,” Carter told KTVE. “I’ve got a lot of time on my hands. I’m retired and been sick, so I have time to do it, a lot of people don’t. If we don’t support him, he’s not gonna come out here and support us.”
Carl Caffey and his wife came up from Lafayette, and they say voting for President Trump was a huge risk.
“We would have voted for Mickey Mouse before we would have voted for Hillary. So when we voted for Trump, he was never in the White House and we knew we were taking a big shot at this,” Caffey said.
That is the very reason they say they’re voting for Republican candidate for governor Eddie Rispone, because of his lack of political experience.
“Edwards, he’s more of a politician, we’re going to go with the businessman,” said Caffey.
Locals also lined up to see the president.
“John Bel Edwards may have done a few good things, but I do believe that Rispone is going to be a better job creator,” said West Monroe resident Jaye Huckabee.
By 5 p.m., Willis Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry had taken the podium inside the arena to fire up the crowd.