The day before the president arrives in Louisiana to rally votes for GOP challenger Eddie Rispone, the two candidates met Tuesday with friendly crowds at separate events.
Gov. John Bel Edwards fielded questions from community activists at a north Baton Rouge event organized by Together Louisiana, a faith-based and community action group without political affiliation that gives no endorsements. But those in the audience made no secret that they backed Edwards, clapping to his answers to questions they asked on issues and ending the event with the “four more years” chant.
Across town in south Baton Rouge, Rispone gave prepared remarks to Republican women over lunch – ricotta cheesecake for dessert. Rispone didn’t answer questions.
Early voting is going on this week for the Nov. 16 runoff election to decide if Edwards will be reelected to a second term as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South or Rispone, making his first run for elective office, returns the Governor’s Mansion to a Republican. Recent polls have the two running neck and neck.
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At St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in the inner-city Eden Park neighborhood in Baton Rouge, Edwards reminded the audience that Rispone refused Together Louisiana’s invitation to attend the gathering.
“You have every right to be suspect of someone who doesn’t want to come and appear before you,” Edwards said. “If he doesn’t want to come while he’s running for governor, can you imagine how he would treat you if he becomes the governor?”
About 200 people sat in chairs leaving dozens of others to stand, like elderly former legislators Joe Delpit, E.L. “Bubba” Henry, and Charlie Melancon. For those who couldn’t get into the packed venue, the event was live streamed to a nearby hall.
For the most part, Edwards stuck with his campaign message of larger economy, higher personal income, lower unemployment.
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But this was a crowd of activists and they wanted to know how he would address the lack of affordable housing and cheered on their feet at the mention of an increased minimum wage, which the governor supports and Rispone does not.
Eileen Kennedy asked if something could be done to get a grocery store in Scotlandville and other depressed neighborhoods around that state.
The Rev. Richard Andrus, whose church hosted the event, asked about Medicaid expansion.
“There is a big difference between me and him,” Edwards said, “but I am supremely confident as I stand before you today that the people of Louisiana know that, they get it and when the hand comes off the Bible on inauguration day, it will be my hand.”
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He was mocking a commercial by Rispone who promised to get tough “on illegal immigration the second my hand comes off the Bible.”
Edwards later attended the LSU football team’s practice. The No. 1 Tigers are playing No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Trump is expected to attend the game.
At Chef John Folse’s White Oak Estate & Gardens, a facility modeled after traditional antebellum plantation homes, in what southeast Baton Rouge voters want to become the City of St. George, a room full of Republican women heard Rispone deliver his stump speech, after Laura Cassidy, wife of U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, and Rispone’s wife, Linda, opened.
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Rispone got choked up twice at the event, once after being introduced by his wife and again when discussing education policy and his desire to teach low-income children about Christianity.
“I’m going to be the education governor,” he said.
The event was a somewhat rare public forum for Rispone, whose campaign has kept him from speaking regularly with the press, though the candidate has begun to hold more engagements that are open to the media as election day approaches.
Even though Rispone spent time schmoozing with attendees after the event, his staff rushed him past a group of reporters without taking questions, saying he didn’t have time.
The Edwards campaign swiftly blasted the move on social media, continuing to hammer Rispone for offering few details about what he’d do as governor and little access to the media.
Rispone has preferred to conduct his public relations through controlled television advertising, and his campaign launched another ad Tuesday. The spot used audio from a radio ad launched by the Black Organization for Leadership Development, BOLD, in New Orleans that compared Rispone and President Donald Trump to David Duke.
Rispone’s ad accuses Edwards’ allies of “playing the race card,” and pictures Edwards next to Democrats Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
It’s the same formula Republicans are using in Mississippi and Kentucky, where gubernatorial balloting took place Tuesday in races with surprisingly strong Democratic candidates.
The Edwards campaign launched its own ads Tuesday, based on something Rispone in a radio interview last week. Rispone told the host he was “disappointed” in Edwards’ military background and thought Edwards “hurt the reputation” of West Point because he became an attorney who “will say or do anything to stay in power.”
Republican gubernatorial contender Eddie Rispone said Friday incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards "hurt the reputation" of West Point by becoming a…
The governor’s campaign in recent days has repeatedly brought up the comments, which drew swift rebuke from several veterans’ organizations allied with Edwards and West Point graduates. In TV, radio and newspaper ads, the campaign blasted Rispone and contrasted Edwards’ military background with Rispone’s lack of service.
“Mr. Rispone went to college to not go into the Army. I went to (the) Army in order to go to college. There’s a big difference,” Edwards said in a radio ad.