When qualifications for elections in Louisiana concluded recently, only two of the seven statewide officials are facing major and well-funded opposition. Incumbent Governor John Bel Edwards faces eight challengers including five republicans. But only two GOP candidates are considered serious; Congressman Ralph Abraham from Northeast Louisiana and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
Under Louisiana’s convoluted “jungle primary system,” all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run against each other at the same time. So it’s possible for two aspirants in the same party to face each other in a run off. Under the old system that operated up until 1972, republicans and democrats held separate primaries. If candidates did not receive at least 50% of the vote in their respective primaries, then a run-off would take place. But then, the victor had to run a third race in the general election.
It’s a system put in place by former Governor Edwin Edwards so he could avoid having to face both a democratic challenger then a republican opponent in a general election. The system worked well for the previous Governor Edwards as he went on to win three addition terms in office. But now it would seem to work against current Governor John Bel Edwards. If he cannot win re-election in the first primary scheduled for October 12th, he may appear to be vulnerable, and then the Trump factor becomes a major concern for John Bel.
The President is expected to stay out of the current gubernatorial race, particularly since there are two major republican candidates. Governor Edwards seems to have a decent relationship with the President, and has been invited by Trump to attend several state dinners at the White House. Edwards regularly ballyhoos that Trump has told him he is the president’s favorite democrat.
A number of early polls place the Governor’s popularity above 50%, and within striking distance of getting more than that margin in the first primary. But if John Bel cannot win an all-out victory on October 12th, the concern for democrats is that the President will jump into a runoff to support the republican challenger.
Such a scenario was actively pushed this week by Louisiana U.S. Senator John Kennedy. Many in Louisiana felt that Kennedy would challenge Edwards himself in the governor’s race, and he was considered by most political observers to be Edwards’ strongest opponent. Kennedy has been critical of Edwards’ performance as governor for several years. He has accumulated a large campaign war chest and looked to be on the verge of jumping into the race.
When asked about running for governor against Edwards just a few months ago, the Senator said: “I’m really torn,”, plainly agonizing over the decision. “I enjoy the job of being a Louisiana senator. On the other hand, my state’s in a lot of trouble.”
But Kennedy’s national reputation has grown, and he has become the “go to” politician in Washington for clever and funny quotes. He called out a Trump judicial nominee by saying: “Just because you’ve seen “My Cousin Vinny” doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge.” With the right political name and a growing solid reputation in Washington, Kennedy has opted to stay involved on the national scene. The Edwards forces have breathed a sigh of relief.
Edwards will make an all-out effort to win re-election in the coming October primary. He knows well that if he is forced into a run-off, President Trump will be actively lobbied by key Louisiana republicans to come into the state and actively support the republican challenger, either Abraham or Rispone. Although the President’s popularity has dipped in recent national polls, he still maintains a strong favorable rating in the Bayou State. So his presence in a run-off would be welcomed by Edward’s opponent.
With the first primary election less than two months away, look for an all-out TV and radio blitz by Edwards, Abraham and Rispone. If the Governor fails to win in the first primary, Louisiana voters will buckle up for knock down drag out political circus in the November general election.
Jim Brown is a former Commissioner of Insurance, Secretary of State and state senator from Ferriday. His past columns can be read at www.jimbrownusa.com. Brown’s nationally syndicated radio show airs each Sunday morning from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at jimbrownusa.com.