Republicans suffered a dramatic loss Saturday night in Louisiana, as that state’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, held on to his seat despite a concerted effort on the part of the Trump White House to push his GOP opponent, Eddie Rispone.
The Associated Press reports that the moderate Edwards pulled out a narrow victory, likely a 51% to 49% win, over Rispone, just a week after Republicans suffered depressing defeats in places like Kentucky and Virginia.
“In the heart of Trump country, the moderate Edwards cobbled together enough cross-party support with his focus on bipartisan, state-specific issues to defeat Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, getting about 51% of the vote,” AP reported Sunday morning.
The president worked hard to return the seat to Republican hands, visiting Louisiana and holding rallies there at least three times over the course of Rispone’s campaign, and working to rally GOP support for Rispone against Edwards, who was considered a top GOP target. Louisiana was an easy win for Trump back in 2016 and is expected to stay in the “red” column in 2020, and Trump is widely considered to be popular in Louisiana, particularly among the state’s blue collar workers and rural residents.
But the Edwards versus Rispone matchup was an unusual one for both parties. Rispone, an outsider to politics, was not well-known within the state, and Edwards, an economically moderate and socially conservative Democrat, retains wide appeal. He is the south’s only Democratic governor, but operates largely like a Republican; just last month, he joined other southern governors — mostly GOP — in rubber-stamping significant restrictions on abortion. He also has a strong commitment to gun rights and ran on his track record of crossing partisan lines.
Edwards has no love for President Donald Trump however, telling the audience at his victory party, “And as for the president, God bless his heart” (a phrase the Associated Press hilariously describes as, “often used by genteel Southerners to politely deprecate someone.”
Rispone thanked the president in his own speech. “That man loves America and he loves Louisiana.”
The race has something to teach both Republicans and Democrats. For the GOP, it’s clearly a wake-up call to adjust national messaging in line with what worked in Louisiana — but what worked in Louisiana may be a bigger wake-up call to Democrats, who have been pushing a much more progressive agenda in the presidential election than seems widely palatable to the Democratic donors who will make a difference in 2020.
Edwards is a moderate who appeals to middle-of-the-road an independent voters in a “red” state — not unlike the “battleground” states key to winning the 2020 presidential election. His message resonated not just with Republican voters but with those voters who may have voted for the Republican but were burned out on Trump.
That’s in line with the message being sent to Democrats by national polls, which put former Vice President Joe Biden — widely considered a “moderate Democrat,” even though his recent statements don’t seem to indicate that he is still “moderate” — neck-and-neck with Trump in states like Wisconsin and Michigan. Progressive candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) fall behind the president.