Jeremy Alford

Just four years ago, the inaugural campaign of Gov. John Bel Edwards dished up a full course of lessons for us.

We found out that personality politics can mean everything in certain runoff scenarios, and that election fundamentals should be tossed aside occasionally. Most importantly, Edwards’ campaign narrative from 2015 remains a case study for all political professionals, especially those who suffer from overconfidence. Put another way, never discount the odd man out; he may become governor one day.

With the weight of incumbency serving as his gravitational force, Edwards heads into summer 2019 with a pile of money in the bank and out-of-state friends ready to fight. But graveyard-serious days are just ahead, and the Edwards outfit will be tested like never before by a handful of groups preparing to lob million-dollar attacks.

Plus, he has opponents. The governor so far has the Democratic bench to himself, but the GOP side of the court is being shared by northeast Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone of Baton Rouge.

Abraham, who has endured a slow fundraising start, is emerging as an establishment candidate, thanks in small part to his interactions with President Donald Trump. Part of the Louisiana rumor mill connected with the race suggests that Abraham may also have an in with the Republican Governors Association, which has money to burn.

The Calcasieu Parish Republican Executive Committee and the Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana recently co-hosted a straw poll that resulted in a 180-94 vote, Abraham over Rispone. The findings were unscientific, to be sure, but the campaigns are nearing the political twilight zone where everything matters more than it should.

Rispone, who has injected enough personal wealth into his campaign to keep pace with Edwards, could reportedly be the first candidate to go up on television. Rispone has the cash to do so, but media buyers still believe in the old adage that once you go up on TV, you have to stay on TV.

Critics say Rispone won’t spend his personal fortune on the race, while his campaign counters that he’s willing and able. Truly, the only thing that resonates is that Rispone has enough money in his account to match Edwards. We’ll have to wait and see if he can live without the jingle.

Other emerging storylines to keep watch for include the following…

• Flood Recovery: Edwards will argue that his team did the best it could, whereas critics will accuse him of doing a poor job. Some of Abraham’s votes on related issues could be a bone of contention as well. Luckily for him, Rispone has no votes to explain.

• The Trump Factor: Will the president fly to Louisiana to campaign for a GOP candidate during the primary? As for raw politics, will the White House trip up any federal recovery money for Louisiana just so the governor can’t benefit from doling it out from down here?

• The Economy: Certain sectors and segments of the Louisiana economy are recovering slower than other states. Abraham’s campaign has started to dig into this issue, as Edwards promotes gains his administration has identified in jobs and employment.

• Going Negative: Being attacked by an opponent is one thing. But when that attack becomes a news story, or earned media, that’s another. How will reporters cover the attacks? During the 2015 cycle, negative TV ads in particular became headline news.

• Bling Bling: More money was raised for the 2015 governor’s race than for any other waged on Louisiana soil. This year’s battle is expected to shatter that four-year old record, but there may be more of a focus on how the cash is being spent as opposed to how it was raised. Vendors from outside of the state and those protesting political stances of candidates could become a trending topic.

• Down Ballot: If Edwards slides or one of the Republican contenders soar in a very public way, that could potentially influence races further down the ballot. A surge in public opinion one way or another could even help Democrats protect a few seats in the Legislature or, in the opposite direction, send more Republicans to Baton Rouge who are harder to the right.

• Criminal Justice Reform: The governor was a lead supporter for recent overhauls to prison sentences and other laws related to incarceration. Given the number of inmates released thus far, conservative operatives are no doubt looking for an example of a repeat offender who ended up back behind bars. The direct mail pieces have probably already been designed.

• Abortion: With Edwards endorsing a bill to further strengthen Louisiana’s abortion laws, some leftwing corners of his support base are raising hell. That could make it slightly more difficult for Democrats connected to the state party to raise money for coordinated efforts. Last cycle, much of that money came from liberal sources outside of the Bayou State.

The potential storylines are too voluminous to list here. But they’re worth pondering.

Who will step up to ensure medical marijuana reaches patients? Which candidate will actually make poverty a central plank in their platform? Will anyone talk about campaign finance reform? Is the era of the super PAC upon us? Will any of the candidates freeze out the press?

We’ll know the storylines soon enough, and we’ve already heard many of them before — enough to know this year’s race for governor will be expensive, unpredictable and ugly.

How’s that for a storyline?

Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

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