Louisiana's Democratic governor will run against a wealthy Republican businessman who has already spent eight figures on his own campaign in a November runoff after narrowly missing out on winning re-election outright.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) easily led Saturday's all-party primary election. With 90 percent of the precincts reporting, Edwards held 46.2 percent of the vote. The Associated Press called the runoff late Saturday evening.
But Edwards needed 50 percent of the vote to win re-election without a November 16 runoff.
In a sign of Louisiana’s Republican bent — and of Edwards’s cross-party appeal — voters easily re-elected the top two Republican incumbents on the ballot on Saturday. Both Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser (R) and Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) won re-election outright, with about two-thirds of the vote.
Edwards will face off against Eddie Rispone, a wealthy Baton Rouge businessman making his first run for public office. Rispone held 27.3 percent of the vote, outpacing Rep. Ralph Abraham (R), who finished third with 24.2 percent of the vote.
History argues that Edwards will face a more difficult path to re-election than he did against a divided field. No sitting Louisiana governor has ever won re-election after being forced into a runoff.
But the most recent polls show Edwards has a better shot. A Mason-Dixon poll conducted earlier this week found Edwards leading Rispone by a 51 percent to 42 percent margin. That margin is likely to narrow as Abraham voters coalesce behind their party's nominee but he will have to cut into Edwards's lead to get him under 50 percent.
In the closing weeks of the campaign, Republicans spent millions trying to drive Edwards's numbers below the 50 percent threshold.
Several of their advertisements focused on sexual harassment allegations against a senior Edwards administration official, who was fired after the allegations came to light.
Though they had not settled on a candidate, Republicans brought in their most popular surrogates to generate big turnout. Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence says he hopes conservative majority on Supreme Court will restrict abortion access Federal judge to hear case of Proud Boy alleged Jan. 6 rioter seeking release from jail The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE campaigned with both Republican candidates last weekend. Donald Trump Jr.Don TrumpHow Trump uses fundraising emails to remain undisputed leader of the GOP Donald Trump Jr. joins Cameo Book claims Trump family members were 'inappropriately' close with Secret Service agents MORE showed up earlier this week. And on Friday, hours before the polls opened, President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE held a get-out-the-vote rally in Lake Charles.
Edwards spent at least $8.4 million on his own spots, most of which touted his accomplishments over his first term. Rispone, who dropped more than $11 million into his campaign, spent about $8 million of that money on his own ads.
The Democratic Governors Association spent $6 million on ads trashing the two leading Republicans and bolstering Edwards. The Republican Governors Association spent $6 million beating up on Edwards, and a wealthy Louisiana Republican helped with his own advertising meant to cut into Edwards's lead.
Rispone, who was unknown statewide before spending so much on his campaign, cast himself as an outsider who could affect change in Baton Rouge.
Rispone overtook Abraham's solid claim on second place in recent weeks in a manner some Louisiana political analysts said reminded them of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R), who beat two rival Republican insiders in his own first run for public office by positioning himself as the outsider.
Louisiana is the first of three states to vote for a governor in a general election in 2019. Democrats had hoped for a quick victory, but the party has two other chances to notch wins in deep red states.
Next month, voters in Kentucky will decide whether Gov. Matt Bevin (R) deserves a second term, or whether Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) will take over. Bevin, who is deeply unpopular, has given Democrats an opening to win an increasingly conservative state.
In Mississippi, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is running neck and neck with Attorney General Jim Hood (D) in a state that has not elected a Democratic governor in 20 years. Reeves is the favorite in part because of an arcane law that requires statewide candidates to win a majority of the vote in a majority of state legislative districts.
If the candidate who wins the popular vote does not win a majority of legislative districts, the state House -- currently controlled by a Republican super majority -- picks the next governor.