Election 2019 Louisiana Governor (copy)

From left, Eddie Rispone, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham participated in the first televised gubernatorial debate.

A new poll in the Louisiana governor’s race shows a shakeup among the Republican candidates, with businessman Eddie Rispone surging ahead of Congressman Ralph Abraham as incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards moves closer to being able to win outright in the primary.

The poll, conducted by JMC Analytics and Polling on behalf of the Louisiana Association of Health Plans, has Edwards at 46%, Rispone at 21% and Abraham at 18%. The survey of 550 respondents has a margin of error of 4.2%.

While Rispone’s lead over Abraham is within the margin of error, the survey is the first public indication he has overtaken Abraham in the race. Rispone gained 5 percentage points from a poll done by the same firm ahead of last week’s TV debate in the race, while Abraham dropped 6 points. That previous poll, done from Sept. 14-17, had 600 responses and a margin of error of 3.8%.

Two significant developments took place in between the two polls. First, Rispone launched a TV attack ad on Abraham, turning the heat up in the race and rankling several prominent Republicans. Second, the three candidates faced off in the first TV debate of the race at LSU.

John Couvillon, who conducted both polls, said while he is inclined to wait to see what other polls say before concluding Rispone has overtaken Abraham, he sees it as an “early warning sign.” The poll suggests Rispone’s attack ad found its mark, and that he held his own in the debate, while Abraham may have been hurt while scrapping with Edwards in the debate.

“I think you have to say Eddie dominating the airwaves over Abraham helps,” Couvillon said. Rispone has poured more than $11.5 million of his own money into the race, allowing him to vastly outspend Abraham.

The jockeying among the Republicans in the polls may not matter, however, as Couvillon’s latest poll shows Edwards surging from 41% to 46%, and nearing the 50% threshold needed to win in the primary when asking undecided voters which candidate they are leaning towards supporting. When including “leaners,” Edwards got 48%, Rispone 22% and Abraham 20%. 

Edwards is gaining in part because Democratic voters are "coming home" ahead of early voting, which begins Saturday, Couvillon said. 

Abraham’s campaign complained about the poll as a “fluke” on Monday, while Rispone’s campaign touted it as evidence he will advance to a runoff with Edwards. If Edwards fails to capture more than 50% of the vote on Oct. 12, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff on Nov. 16.

In a memo sent Monday morning, Abraham strategist and data analyst Bill Skelly called the poll a "fantasy-land survey," but also suggested Rispone's rise is tied to a bump in Edwards' numbers. 

"Ralph Abraham remains the only candidate positioned to actually defeat John Bel Edwards in November," he said. "Our data and analytics continue to actually show us positioned to make the runoff and our plan for the next three weeks will only solidify our place in the runoff."

Rispone's campaign spokesman Anthony Ramirez said Rispone is surging because "grassroots conservatives are rallying behind Eddie because he is the only candidate who is positioned to take on--and beat--John Bel Edwards in the general election." 

The three candidates will all appear at the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday around noon for a forum.

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com