BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana stands alone in the deep red South as the only state with a Democrat in the governor's mansion. That could change 10 months from now when voters decide whether to re-elect John Bel Edwards.
The race got a big jolt Thursday with the addition of U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Louisiana’s 5th district. As a doctor, veterinarian, and Coast Guard pilot, the North Louisiana Republican has an impressive resume. But with roughly two-thirds of the state’s population living south of Alexandria, political analyst Jim Ensgter said name recognition could be a problem.
“Edwin Edwards, Dave Treen, Buddy Roemer, Bobby Jindal, they all came from the House, so Ralph Abraham has that going for him,” Engster explained. “But he's not well known by the electorate generally, and he's got to change that in the next 10 months.”
No one expects the race to get as ugly as it did in 2015 with the attacks on David Vitter, but Abraham and Edwards are not wasting time getting in shots where they can.
“You just have to address those questions why he would seek re-election, be re-elected and before he's even sworn in to the next term decides that's not the job that he wants," Edwards said after speaking Thursday to the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.
"That's a good question for the governor,” Abraham countered in a phone interview. “He ran 273 days while he was in the State Senate, so you know that's a question that I would throw back to him."
The big issues will likely come down to healthcare, with Edwards’ expansion of Medicaid in Louisiana, and who gets credit for the state’s improving economy.
“We've turned a historic deficit into surplus, we're funding higher education again, the GDP – the economy in the state of Louisiana is bigger than it's ever been right now," Edwards said.
Abraham said work in Washington is to thank for the growth.
“Yeah, Louisiana is doing a little bit better,” he acknowledged. “We could do so much better, but the fact that we're doing a little bit better is due to what we did in Congress with the Jobs Act and tax cut bill.”
The wild card candidate is Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. The founder of ISC Constructors has committed at least $5 million dollars of his own money, but the Republican is unknown to most voters in the state.
“Eddie Rispone's gotta get out there and make the case,” Engster said. “He can't just rest on his bank account. At some point he has to become a real candidate, and that means mingling with the public, conversing with the media, and doing all the things that a candidate normally does, and at this point he hasn't done it.”
Blake Harris, a spokesman for Rispone’s campaign, released the following statement:
“Anyone is welcome to run, but Eddie Rispone is the only conservative outsider in the race, and we’re confident he will have the resources to share his conservative vision for Louisiana with voters. If any other politicians want to jump into this campaign, that’s fine with us too.”
With 10 months to go, Engster said there's still plenty of time for more candidates to join the race.
“Ralph Abraham’s a viable candidate, Eddie Rispone could be a viable candidate, so we do have a race. There possibly will be a Democrat to get in, and if that’s the case, John Bel Edwards will be forced to answer questions from the Left and the Right. At this point he has a field of Republicans that is considered a Triple-A field rather than a major league field, and he has the Democratic side to himself.”
Engster hosts Talk Louisiana, weekdays at 9 a.m. on 89.3 WRKF.