Eddie Rispone (left) and Ralph Abraham (right)

Eddie Rispone (left) and Ralph Abraham (right)

The two Republican candidates for governor joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday to try to make their case for a Republican to win election this fall over Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“I see all the makings of a very strong and robust business sector in Louisiana,” Abbott said, arguing that Texas has fared better under Republican leadership. “Part of our success is businesses having second thoughts about Louisiana.”

Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham have both announced plans to run in this fall’s election and have begun campaigning. The RGA event, held at the Pelican Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, was among the first public joint appearances for the two Republican candidates. It also highlighted the policy areas where they differ.

“Either of these candidates could get Louisiana back on track,” Abbott said.

The election is Oct. 12. A Nov. 16 runoff will take place between the top two vote-getters if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, regardless of party.

The RGA isn't expected to endorse either Republican candidate before the runoff and likely will focus its efforts on an anti-Edwards message until the GOP has a single candidate in the race.

But the national group has identified this year's race in Louisiana as a "top pick-up opportunity for Republicans" as Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, seeks a second term. The race could be the most expensive gubernatorial election in Louisiana history.

Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant were expected to be featured guests at an RGA fundraiser in New Orleans Monday evening.

“We don’t want to see the Louisiana economy struggle,” Abbott said. “Louisianans can make a change in just a few months.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have sought to link Abraham and Rispone to ex-Gov. Bobby Jindal, who chaired the RGA while in office.

“Like Eddie Rispone and Ralph Abraham, the RGA was one of the biggest supporters of Bobby Jindal during his time as governor,” Edwards’ campaign spokesman Eric Holl said. “Now that Gov. Edwards has cleaned up Jindal’s mess and turned a $2 billion budget deficit into a surplus, Jindal’s supporters want to take us back to budget cuts and a bad economy. The people of Louisiana don’t want to go back.”

Rispone, who is running for office for the first time, and Abraham, who is in his third term in Congress, have been traveling the state in recent weeks, trying to woo supporters.

Both have sought to portray the Edwards’ administration as unfriendly to business and sought to link the governor to more liberal Democrats on the national scene.

“What we’ve got now is businesses are crawling to get out of the state,” Abraham said. “Texas is booming. We are not.”

Rispone, a co-founder of ISC Constructors, has pitched himself as an “outsider” candidate who will take a business approach to running government. He said his outsider status means that he doesn’t have a specific state budget cut to advocate, but he believes that government should start each year with reviewing spending priorities, rather than comparing year-to-year spending.

“We don’t have a revenue problem,” Rispone said. “We have a spending problem.”

Edwards signed an executive order to expand the state Medicaid health care program shortly after taking office, under an optional provision of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Both Rispone and Abraham said that they believe Medicaid needs a more thorough review to prevent fraud and waste.

“We’re not going to kick anyone off the rolls,” said Abraham, who is a doctor who treats Medicaid patients. “We can make the program better.”

Risponse said he would immediately “freeze” Medicaid enrollment if elected to allow for a deeper evaluation. “The implementation was not done properly,” he said.

Edwards has said his No. 1 priority for the legislative session that starts next month will be an across-the-board pay raise for teachers.

Rispone and Abraham said they support paying teachers more.

“We should have raised teacher pay long, long ago,” Abraham said.

Rispone said he doesn’t support the across-the-board method and thinks that pay increases should be dependent on performance.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.