Louisiana congressman to challenge Dem Gov

Rep. Ralph Abraham (R) said Thursday he will challenge Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) next year, giving Republicans a new hope after their most prominent candidate dropped out of the race earlier this week.

Edwards beat then-Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterLouisiana congressman to challenge Dem Gov Kennedy says he won't run for Louisiana governor next year Dems face tough road ahead in Deep South MORE (R) in 2015, by an unexpectedly wide margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.

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“I’m running for governor, and I intend to win,” Abraham said in a statement announcing his candidacy.

Edwards spent his first term in office expanding Medicaid and rebuilding the state’s budget, after inheriting a $2 billion deficit. In a statement Thursday, Edwards pointed to Louisiana’s fast-growing economy.

“I welcome this debate. I’ve got a consistent record of working across the aisle to get things done for Louisiana,” Edwards said in a statement. “The state and our people are much better off now than they were three years ago, and I look forward to another five years of putting the people of Louisiana first.”

Republicans have struggled to recruit a top-tier challenger to Edwards. Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) said earlier this year he would not run, after considering the race for months.

On Monday, Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R), who replaced Vitter in the Senate, said he would not run for governor. Political observers in Louisiana had expected Kennedy to run.

“For a day or two, or maybe three, Republicans in Louisiana would feel lost since Kennedy had been indicating he was running by his actions. It was a letdown, but they would get over it,” said Bernie Pinsonat, a longtime Louisiana political strategist and pollster.

Abraham, who just won his third term in the U.S. House in November, represents a sprawling district in northwest Louisiana, anchored by the cities of Monroe and Alexandria. He will have to spend millions of dollars introducing himself to a majority of Louisiana voters who live in the southern part of the state along the Interstate 10 corridor, Pinsonat said.

At least one more candidate, Baton Rouge businessman and Republican mega-donor Eddie Rispone, has entered the race already. Rispone has said he will spend at least $5 million of his own money on the race.

The top two vote-getters in the Oct. 12 jungle primary will advance to a Nov. 16 runoff election, regardless of party affiliation.

Even without a star recruit, Republicans have a strong chance at competing in deep-red Louisiana. President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorsi sues Mueller for alleged leaks and illegal surveillance Comey: Trump 'certainly close' to being unindicted co-conspirator Trump pushes back on reports that Ayers was first pick for chief of staff MORE beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSantorum: Dems have a chance in 2020 if they pick someone ‘unexpected’ Trump should heed a 1974 warning penned by Bush NRCC breach exposes gaps 2 years after Russia hacks MORE there by 20 points in 2016, and Trump has shown a willingness to campaign for Republican candidates especially in the Deep South.

“Louisiana is still a red state. When Donald Trump comes to Louisiana for a candidate, a Deep South red state like Louisiana, unless the candidate is somebody who is so bad, he pulls them across the line,” Pinsonat said.