WASHINGTON — No Republican member of the Louisiana Congressional delegation has endorsed a candidate in this fall's governor’s race, but they say they have been stressing during meetings with constituents their opposition to Gov. John Bel Edwards getting a second term.
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“All of the Congressional delegation, we’re doing everything in our power," U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, said during a recent interview on conservative talk radio in Acadiana. “We can’t lose this election."
Johnson, U.S. Reps. Garret Graves, Steve Scalise and Clay Higgins and U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, all Republicans, have not endorsed any candidate in the governor's race.
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Edwards faces GOP candidates U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone in the election next month.
Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, won election four years ago against then-U.S. Sen. David Vitter, after Vitter received several high-profile endorsements but faced a bitter battle against two other Republicans on the ballot, Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle, that left him limping into the runoff.
The state GOP has this time encouraged Republicans to generally focus efforts on attacking Edwards.
But some conservatives have lamented that the delegation has not been on the front lines of campaigning against Edwards.
Abraham, an Alto Republican who is at a cash disadvantage in the race, has been steadily rolling out a list of endorsement of lower-level Republicans, including state House members and local politicians.
Graves, a Baton Rouge Republican, will vote Republican, his spokesman Kevin Roig said.
"We need a course correction because Louisiana is bucking national trends in all the wrong ways right now: We’re losing jobs while the rest of the country is gaining them, our taxes are up while the rest of the country’s are down, fewer people are working in the private sector, fewer people are looking for jobs at all, and personal income growth is well behind national averages," Roig said. "Folks can argue the stats, but real people living their real lives who just finished college or who are recently out of work or those who are looking for a change to build a better future aren’t going to stick around while politicians sort out what’s what – they’re going to go where the jobs are, where the opportunities are. And that’s not going to be Louisiana unless we make a change, and that’s what this election is about. You’ve seen Garret push back against this administration more than anyone on policies that hurt Louisiana citizens, and you’ve seen him work with them on issues that move Louisiana forward."
Kennedy, a Madisonville Republican who declined to enter the race after months of mulling an Edwards challenge, has been the most outspoken against Edwards' attempt at a second term and has been a frequent critic of the governor — often bashing the governor's policies and promoting efforts to instead elect a Republican governor.
“The people we are speaking to, we are telling them that we need to have a Republican governor," said Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge. “We speak honestly; it’s going to be a tough race.”
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who is the only Democratic member of the delegation, recently hosted a fundraiser for Edwards' re-election campaign.
Scalise, a Jefferson Republican who is the U.S. House Minority Whip and was heavily courted to mount his own run for governor, has not endorsed Rispone, 70, or Abraham, 64, but he has spoken highly of both in recent months and the need for change in the state's leadership when asked by this newspaper.
Conservative talk radio host Moon Griffon over the past week has pressed on Republican lawmakers to be more vocal in the governor's race.
“My nature is to use diplomacy and a statesman-like demeanor, even when I have serious disagreements with policy," Higgins, R-Port Barre, said during an interview with Griffon.
Higgins said he maintains a respectful relationship with Edwards but also criticized the governor's handling of issues related to the critical oil-and-gas industry that have plagued his district.
“The toxic legal environment has been very very hurtful," Higgins said. “We as Louisiana citizens cannot bear the impact of another four years.”
Higgins said he's seen polling data that leaves him worried about whether a Republican can win and questionable about whether the race will be forced into a runoff.
"I have never said that we should just sit by and expect a runoff," he said. "I’m fearful of the numbers I’m seeing right now."
Meanwhile, the Edwards campaign sees the lack of endorsements as a win for them.
"Eddie Rispone and Ralph Abraham can’t get endorsements from Republicans in Congress for the same reason they can’t get support from voters: They’re flawed candidates who want to bring back the policies of Bobby Jindal," Edwards spokesman Eric Holl said. "Republicans in Congress know that Louisiana supports Gov. Edwards and doesn’t want to go back to Jindal. That’s why multiple Republican members of the delegation decided not to run for governor, despite being recruited by special interests."