BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Republican challenger Eddie Rispone’s campaign manager got candid Wednesday about the hurdles his candidate faced this fall against Louisiana’s Democratic incumbent.
“The reason we weren’t successful is really because of how successful an opponent John Bel Edwards really is,” campaign manager Bryan Reed said during a forum at LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs.
Reed said the governor’s high approval rating forced Rispone’s advisers to frame the race with a more nationalized brush — linking Rispone to President Donald Trump and Edwards to liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“The pathway to victory was making this an ideological choice,” Reed said. “It needed to be a conservative versus a liberal, an outsider versus a career politician, a businessman versus a trial lawyer.”
Edwards defeated Rispone by 40,000 votes in Saturday’s runoff election. Another candidate, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, finished third in an Oct. 12 primary and did not qualify for the two-person runoff.
Rispone’s campaign aides said negative ads helped their candidate finish above Abraham in the open primary. The Republican businessman spent significant money likening Abraham to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, hoping it would sour ties between the congressman and his pro-Trump Republican base.
“The voters just liked Abraham better than Eddie at that time, so going negative was the only path to victory,” Reed said.
Abraham campaign consultant Lionel Rainey argued Rispone would not have made the runoff had Abraham shown deeper pockets.
“We weren’t able to go up on broadcast TV in Baton Rouge, so there’s a lesson to be learned,” Rainey said. “You have to be able to have enough money to go on every broadcast network in the state.”
Rainey claimed that while attack ads likely boosted Rispone’s primary support, they hurt his overall chances.
“I think he played a very short game to get into the runoff, and it inevitably cost the race,” he said.
Edwards is Louisiana’s first incumbent governor to win reelection after being forced into a runoff. The governor’s win Saturday makes him the state’s first Democratic governor to win two consecutive terms since Edwin Edwards in 1975.
Edwards also has the distinction of winning reelection in a state where President Trump won 58 percent in the 2016 presidential election. The governor’s campaign advisers said their candidate won because he stuck to state issues.
“The governor made a very conscious effort not to make this a race about him and President Trump,” Edwards campaign manager Richard Carbo said. “This was a race about him and about Louisiana.”
Carbo said the governor’s working ties with the Trump White House remain strong — even after the president endorsed the Republican ticket.
“If we were in a Twitter battle with the president or calling each other names, then we weren’t doing our jobs,” Carbo said.
Edwards will take his second oath of office Jan. 13.