We know there’s a gubernatorial election going on here in Louisiana because we can’t turn on our televisions or radios without hearing about incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and GOP challenger Eddie Rispone.
Thing is, not much of what we’re hearing pertains to how the candidates would perform as the state’s chief elected official. In fact, some of the more interesting developments in the race for governor are happening or being decided behind closed doors.
As you may know, there are no remaining televised debates, largely because Rispone was unable to participate. What isn’t being discussed is the political reality that Rispone didn’t need to agree to a final debate in order to carry out a sound campaign strategy.
President Donald Trump is expected to appear in Monroe this week and Shreveport on Nov. 14 to support Rispone’s bid. It’s likely that other GOP surrogates will get involved as well, giving Rispone plenty of earned media coverage that will be as scripted as the president allows, but certainly safer for the candidate than live television.
The Edwards campaign has been making some quietly shrewd moves, too, mostly in the form of bringing in a few new faces who should otherwise be familiar to politicos in Louisiana. Like strategist Scott Arceneaux, the former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party. He also worked for the Democratic Governor’s Association in 2015, helping the Edwards campaign in the runoff with turnout and other matters.
Arceneaux is back in Louisiana to do the same thing this go around, only directly for the campaign. Among politicos, this should have been a bigger story. But it doesn’t appear that the hire got much ink. There’s a good reason for that — after all of its hard work in the primary, the last thing the Edwards campaign wanted to do was give the impression of shakeup. Because, by appearances alone, there hasn’t been a staffing shakeup at all, and diehard Democrats are probably pleased to have Arceneaux in the mix again.
In the same manner voters have been shielded from important political decisions, ongoing campaign narratives continue to either turn the spotlight on people who aren’t candidates or dredge up issues that have very little to do with being governor.
Edwards, for example, charged into this campaign cycle attacking the policies of former Gov. Bobby Jindal and arguing that his administration had made the appropriate corrections. Rispone and third place primary finisher Congressman Ralph Abraham, meanwhile, simply promised to be Trump-like.
Continuing with that theme, the New Orleans-based Black Organization for Leadership Development has bankrolled a radio ad claiming rather loose ties between Rispone and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. (Rispone called the attack “disgusting.”)
The Associated Press also reported that the Louisiana Republican Party released an email “linking to a conservative news sites’ descriptions of Edwards’ family as slave owners before the Civil War and his grandfather as a segregationist state lawmaker.” (Edwards told the AP, “The actions of my ancestors before I was born, if true, do not in any way reflect my views.”)
Very little that’s transpiring in the election at this late hour tells us a whole lot about who might have a clear edge heading into the Nov. 16 runoff election. Early voting is underway, from Nov. 2 to Nov. 9, but those results will only present us with a piecemeal preview of what the entire electorate might look like once the runoff has concluded.
As for turnout, money for canvassing teams and other get-out-the-vote activities are beginning to come together, particularly for the Edwards campaign. But we won’t know where that cash showed up or from which pockets until campaign finance reports are filed at a later date. And even then, it’ll be a fishing expedition to find every single paper trail.
Quite frankly, there’s no reason to be bummed out about Louisiana’s governor’s race entering stealth mode with less than two weeks to go until the big show. Hopefully, the mysteries add intrigue to the process for bored voters. The uncertainty around turnout may even be enough to energize political forces to get more voters to the polls. If nothing else, the question marks give reporters like myself something to write about.
Moreover, all of these muted moves and under-the-radar developments are letting us in on one not-so-closely guarded secret: no one truly knows how this one is gong to play out. So don’t blink yet, no matter how sleepy this race might appear.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.