BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will narrowly win reelection, beating out Republican challenger Eddie Rispone, CNN projected Saturday night.
Edwards will claim victory in a deep red state President Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016, and against a businessman who closely aligned himself with the President. Trump held two rallies in Louisiana over the past 10 days, but the attempt at a last-minute boost was not enough to carry Rispone over the finish line.
Last month, Edwards was forced into a runoff election after falling short of the majority vote needed to clinch reelection. He was the top vote getter (47%) in the jungle primary in which all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, ran against each other. Rispone got 27% of the vote, Republican Ralph Abraham got 24%, and Republican Patrick Landry got 1%.
Edwards, 53, is the only statewide elected Democrat in Louisiana. He has accomplished the national Democratic priority of expanding Medicaid, but has been far to the right of his party on some social issues -- including abortion rights and gun control. He is a former Army Ranger who describes himself as pro-guns and a pro-life Democrat. Earlier this year, Edwards signed a bill banning abortions once a heartbeat is detectable with no exceptions for rape or incest.
He was the minority leader of the Louisiana House of Representatives before being elected governor in 2015. As governor, Edwards signed an executive order to expand Medicaid in the state, and supports a modest increase to Louisiana's minimum wage, according to his campaign website. He touts cutting taxes and state government spending while in office, and working across party lines.
Rispone is a 70-year-old businessman with a background in construction, and is a first-time candidate. A longtime donor, he spent millions of dollars of his own money on his campaign. He bills himself as a "conservative outsider," and is an ardent Trump supporter. He has campaigned on banning sanctuary cities and cracking down on illegal immigration, and is a vocal critic of the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Edwards won office back in 2015 on somewhat of a fluke. Polling showed him only clearly beating one Republican in a runoff, scandal-ridden David Vitter, and Vitter was the Republican who managed to secure a runoff spot alongside Edwards. Edwards was helped by then-Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal driving up the state budget deficit and providing the political environment for Edwards to win.