Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support

Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support
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Louisiana voters are heading to the polls Saturday in one of the nation’s more competitive gubernatorial races as the GOP sets its sights on flipping the governor’s seat in the ruby red state.

The race pits Rep. Ralph Abraham and construction magnate Eddie Rispone, both Republicans, against incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is the only Democratic statewide elected official in Louisiana.

Republicans are hoping to deny Edwards a finish of more than 50 percent in Saturday's election, thereby forcing the race to a November runoff.

“Louisiana, get out and vote REPUBLICAN before going to the big game today. A runoff will be a tremendous win for your Great State - lower taxes and car insurance, and better protection of your 2nd Amendment!” President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE tweeted Saturday after rallying in Lake Charles, La., the previous night.

While a deeply Republican state that voted for Trump by 20 points in 2016 would appear to be fertile ground for a GOP victory, worries within the party have arisen that a bitter and personal campaign between Abraham and Rispone could cost the party a golden opportunity to win the gubernatorial race.

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Rispone hammered Abraham in an attack ad last month, and Abraham fired back with a video calling his opponent “desperate” and telling voters, “Eddie Rispone is lying to you.”

The two candidates also bickered at a debate this week over education policy and Abraham’s promise to donate his congressional salary to charity.

Edwards was elected to his first term in the state in 2015. No Democratic governor has won two consecutive terms in Louisiana since the mid 1970s, but The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, rates the race as leaning Democratic. 

The president brought both candidates on stage during his rally Friday night and cautioned, “You’re not allowed to hit your Republican opponent. You’re only allowed to hit John Bel Edwards because he deserves it.”

The president urged Republicans to head to the polls before Saturday night's game between the Florida Gators and LSU Tigers, saying, "Go out and vote and then enjoy the game as it should be enjoyed."

Trump has in recent days emerged as a chief cheerleader for the two Republican gubernatorial candidates, saying either Abraham or Rispone would be a good alternative to Edwards.

“REPUBLICANS of Louisiana, it is really important for you to go out and vote on October 12th for either Eddie Rispone or Ralph Abraham (both Great), which will lead to a runoff against a  Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles California GOP candidate arrested on stalking charges MORE/Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments MORE Democrat (John Bel Edwards), who does nothing but stymie all of the things we are doing to Make America Great Again,” Trump tweeted. 

“Don’t be fooled, John Bel Edwards will NEVER be for us.”

Despite the president’s broadsides against Edwards, the Democrat has worked to burnish his centrist bona fides in the race. He has repeatedly highlighted his pro-Second Amendment and anti-abortion stances over his decision to expand Medicaid and boost public education funding while also declining to hit back at Trump.

"I intend to maintain a good working relationship with [Trump] in my second term," Edwards said at a press conference Friday ahead of Trump’s rally. 

Edwards won his first term in 2015 over a scandal-plagued Republican who had been tied to a Washington, D.C., woman who was convicted of running a prostitution service.

This cycle, Edwards has hammered his opponents as either irresponsible or tied to past, failed policies. He's repeatedly panned Abraham for shirking his duties in Washington to campaign for governor and attacked Rispone for his donations to former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), under whose tenure the state deficit skyrocketed.

“I’ve got one opponent who ignores the job he has and the promises that he made to get it,” Edwards said at this week’s debate. “I’ve got another opponent who was the biggest supporter of the failed policies of Bobby Jindal that ran our state dip in the ditch.”

Edwards’s strategy appears to be working, with polling showing that he is running well ahead of both Abraham and Rispone, leaving him in a strong position even if he fails to breach the 50 percent threshold before polls close at 8 p.m. local time Saturday.