ANALYSIS: In La. governor’s race, state GOP leaders look to avoid infighting

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Republicans seeking Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ job will share a stage Thursday, as the state leader of their party eyes a campaign season free of inner-party clashes.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone will speak at a Baton Rouge forum sponsored by the Pelican Institute, a pro-free market think tank.

The event is among the first to feature both GOP hopefuls. It comes as Louisiana Republican chairman Louis Gurvich shows intent to quash personal attacks within the party.

Our Republican candidates must wage this campaign in the knowledge that Republican infighting only assures a second victory for John Bel Edwards, and we must not let that happen! Gurvich said in a statement last week.

The call for unity follows the 2015 governor’s race, considered one of the most rancorous face-offs in Louisiana history. GOP candidates Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne both took aim at fellow Republican David Vitter for alleged ties to a prostitution ring. Couvillon claims their joint fire compromised Vitter’s chances in the runoff against Edwards, then a state representative.

There’s going to be more of an effort at party unity than there was four years ago, Couvillon said. Republicans saw the consequences of their being a divided party, and they don’t want to make that mistake again.

Whether Republicans will follow Gurvich’s message through autumn has yet to be seen. The chairman’s appeal came shortly after a spokesman for Rispone shared an anonymous post from the website “Conservative Intel” that questions Abraham’s loyalty to President Donald Trump.

“Ralph Abraham and #NeverTrump candidates like him across the country should not be given a free pass, the post reads. “Abraham was against Donald Trump before he won the presidency, and is supportive now only out of necessity and his own self-interest; Louisianans should not be fooled by his campaign rhetoric.”

Rispone’s staff has remained largely mum regarding the post. Representatives with Abraham’s campaign argue the congressman will advertise policy differences with Edwards, not personal qualms.

Abraham and Rispone are the only two Republicans in the governor’s race so far.

Gurvich’s quest to keep Republicans together also follows curious remarks from someone else in his shop. LAGOP rules chair Scott Wilfong told a radio host last week that some party members are hoping to see a third Republican make a bid.

“I’ve been getting a lot of chatter about, ‘Is this the field?’ Wilfong said. “There’s definitely some movement to try to get another candidate into the race.

Some of Louisiana’s most notable Republicans have announced they will not run, including U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and state Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Edwards was invited to Thursday’s forum, but will not attend. The Democratic incumbent’s campaign spokesman told that he has a previously scheduled event in New Orleans.

Primary Day is October 12. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes then, the top two hopefuls will square off November 16.

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