Eddie Rispone (left) and Ralph Abraham (right)

Eddie Rispone (left) and Ralph Abraham (right)

A Super PAC affiliated with Gov. John Bel Edwards has launched its first major attacks on the governor’s two main Republican challengers, releasing its first TV ads in the race about two months before election day. 

Gumbo PAC, a Baton Rouge-based Super PAC run by Democratic operative Trey Ourso, launched the negative spots Monday against Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, the two major GOP challengers to Edwards, a Democrat. Ourso said in a statement the organization intends to advertise on TV continuously through the Oct. 12 primary election day. 

The first ad, titled “Promise,” hammers Abraham for a pledge he made when first running for congress in 2014 to not accept his congressional salary. Abraham won the race, but quietly began accepting his salary after his first term, the Advocate previously reported.

Abraham had promised to donate the money to the St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis and to the Independence Fund, a nonprofit based in Charlotte that helps injured veterans. His congressional staff previously said he kept his commitment to those entities but did not provide details or verification.

Gumbo’s ad plays a clip of Abraham during his congressional campaign pledging to donate the money to the organizations, as a narrator says “Abraham promised to donate his salary to sick children and wounded veterans. But for years Abraham secretly pocketed that salary even though he’s worth more than $12 million.”

Abraham’s campaign did not answer questions about the ad Monday. 

The spot attacking Rispone, titled "Etoufee," focuses on the candidate’s business practices at ISC Constructors, a privately-held Baton Rouge industrial construction firm he co-founded. The ad dubs the candidate “phony Rispone” and says he “repeatedly refused to pay his employees and refused to pay their medical bills,” citing multiple lawsuits against the firm that were later settled. It also attacks him for applying for three positions in the H1-B visa lottery, which allows businesses to hire skilled workers from other countries.

Anthony Ramirez, a spokesman for Rispone’s campaign, said “the attack ad from John Bel Edwards’ liberal allies contains multiple falsehoods” and said the campaign sent a letter to station managers requesting it be taken down. The letter argues the allegations cited in the ad were never proven. 

In a statement, Rispone said Edwards "and his liberal cronies are trying to distract you from the fact that under his leadership we are ranked dead last in almost every category." 

Rispone has largely self-funded his campaign, loaning it more than $10 million and using several million to launch his own TV ads that mostly embrace President Donald Trump and focusing on national issues like immigration and building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Super PACs are pouring millions of dollars into Louisiana governor's race to unseat Gov. Edwards

Gumbo PAC played an important role in the 2015 governor's race, attacking the once-powerful Republican Sen. David Vitter for a prostitution scandal that helped lead to his loss to Edwards.

The PAC’s biggest donors include the Democratic Governors Association, a D.C.-based organization that has funneled at least half a million dollars into the PAC, as well as trial attorneys, labor unions, industrial firms and others.

The ads are not the first negative spots in the race. Shortly after Edwards launched the first statewide TV ad in the race, last month, the Republican Governors Association’s Super PAC began attacking the governor for his record on taxes.

Aside from Edwards, Abraham and Rispone, six other lesser-known candidates are also running for governor. All candidates will appear on the Oct. 12 ballot and if no one gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two will advance to a Nov. 16 runoff. 

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com