Final debate trades substance for vitriol

Candidates hammer each other on issues in their last appearance together

Gov. Edwards, Eddie Rispone face off in only debate before runoff election

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Wednesday night’s final gubernatorial debate offered entertaining fireworks, though often at substance’s expense.

Governor John Bel Edwards and Eddie Rispone fielded questions from a panel of journalists, but spent most of the evening questioning each other. The Council for a Better Louisiana hosted the debate, which aired on Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) on Oct. 30.

Edwards hammered his Republican challenger for vague policy proposals, specifically his desire to rewrite the state’s constitution.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, and quite frankly, what you don’t know is astounding,” Edwards said to Rispone. The two candidates sat across from each other at a coffee table, and addressed each other as if cameras were not in the room.

Rispone stayed on message, though he did not mention President Donald Trump as frequently as he did in the three debates prior to the primary. The Republican businessman attempted to link Edwards to Democrats running for president in Washington, D.C.

“That’s what liberals do,” Rispone said. “They want to do away with our economy, they want to do away with free enterprise, they want socialism.”

“You’re talking about some generic Democrat that’s in your mind,” Edwards retorted. “You’re not talking about me. I’m squarely in the middle of the political spectrum.”

The two candidates talked over each other throughout most of the debate. Neither candidate revealed any significant, new policy plans. Rispone suggested he would eliminate the personal income tax, though pumped the brakes on doing it immediately.

As the night wore on, voices rose in pitch. At one point, Edwards told Rispone his question about sanctuary cities was “stupid.”

It’s the final time the two candidates will meet on the same stage. Rispone has declined a number of debate invitations, including one from WAFB parent company, Gray TV.

Rispone called Edwards ineffective by pointing to failed tax reform proposals. Edwards noted the Republican legislature shot down each of his proposals that were recommended by a bipartisan task force and are mostly considered best practices.

Rispone criticized Edwards for pardoning a number of convicted criminals through a normal political process that’s often confused with criminal justice reform. Edwards touted his endorsement from the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, of which his brother is a member.

The final question of the night, about morals and religion, was the only inquiry that did not draw snark or ugliness during the hour-long debate.

Election Day is Nov. 16. Early voting begins Saturday, Nov. 2.

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