MONROE President Donald Trump and Gov. John Bel Edwards, campaigning in a key battleground in the Louisiana governor’s race, held competing events here Wednesday, with the president urging voters to send a message to Democrats by voting for Edwards’ opponent and the governor touting the state’s accomplishments.

The two men offered starkly different assessments of Louisiana, as Trump harped on Louisiana’s high auto insurance rates and what he described as poor economic development, calling Edwards a “liberal” more aligned with the national Democratic Party than Louisiana. He urged supporters to back Eddie Rispone, a businessman and longtime GOP donor who is trying to unseat Edwards.

“Right now Louisiana can send the radical left a message they can never ignore,” Trump said. “Eddie will defend your values that are under assault by the extreme left.”

Edwards highlighted Louisiana’s budget surplus and investments in education and other areas, touting his bipartisan record and a working relationship with Trump that includes nine visits to the White House. He painted Trump’s visit as a political stunt aimed at distracting from the issues.

“We know the president's rally is about partisan politics,” Edwards said. “Rispone's a bad candidate. So his party is forced to call in the president to try to prop him up.”

The contrast in messaging illustrated the contours of the race so far. Republicans, including Rispone, have embraced Trump and likened Edwards to national Democrats, while the governor has downplayed his party affiliation and focused on state issues.

Trump’s wide-ranging speech focused primarily on national issues, like the impeachment inquiry, his Democratic opponents in the 2020 elections, Russian election interference, ISIS and the news media.

He also blasted Edwards as a “liberal Democrat governor” and wondered aloud “how the hell he got” elected in a Republican state like Louisiana.

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In last month’s primary election for governor, Monroe and most of northeast Louisiana went to Republican Congressman Ralph Abraham, of nearby Alto, who finished third in the Oct. 12 primary election. After an at-times rancorous intraparty battle in the primary, many Abraham supporters were bitter after Rispone launched attack ads against Abraham, and Edwards has campaigned heavily in the region to try to win crossover votes.

Earlier Wednesday Edwards, standing atop a well-worn stump at a public park, told a throng of supporters he would win the race by keeping the focus on state issues, highlighting the state’s $500 million budget surplus and the first teacher pay raise in a decade.

“Eddie (Rispone) knows he cannot win on the issues,” Edwards said. “He cannot win if this election is about Louisiana and what is best for our people. That's why he's trying to make this election about Washington, D.C. But you cannot serve as governor of the great state of Louisiana from Washington, D.C. Bobby Jindal tried that. And it nearly bankrupted our state.”

The rallies came amid a weeklong early voting period in the runoff election, which has begun heating up ahead of the Nov. 16 election day. Edwards and Rispone have polled within the margin of error, and each has launched broadsides at the other in recent days.

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Edwards is trying to keep his post as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, a position that has drawn the attention of national Republicans looking to flip the seat. Rispone, who has campaigned in large part on his support of Trump, largely self-funded his campaign to the tune of about $12 million, so far.

While many of Edwards’ supporters at his rally waved anti-Trump signs and held flyers for a Trump protest, the governor highlighted his working relationship with the president and discouraged boos from the crowd at the mention of Trump’s name.

Trump won Louisiana by 20 points in 2016 and polls have shown he remains popular here. Edwards often treads carefully around his tenure, and last month, he voiced his opposition to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into him.

Abraham appeared onstage Wednesday night for the first Rispone event since conceding the race last month.

Trump is holding another event in Shreveport two days before the runoff. The president also came to Lake Charles to stump for Abraham and Rispone on the eve of last month’s primary election.

Trump’s rally included Willie Robertson, of "Duck Dynasty" fame, who has recorded TV spots on behalf of Rispone. State Attorney General Jeff Landry, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy also spoke.

Meanwhile, the Edwards administration highlighted tweets by the White House touting Louisiana’s economic growth, a message that was sharply at odds with GOP messaging in the governor’s race.

Edwards has campaigned on his expansion of Medicaid, the state’s budget surplus and investments in teacher pay and higher education.

Rispone has embraced Trump and argued Louisiana’s economy is floundering under Edwards. He has mostly avoided the media and offered few specifics about what he would do if elected, though he has vowed to freeze Medicaid expansion enrollment and make it easier for manufacturers to receive tax breaks under a tax incentive program Edwards overhauled.

Louisiana has the only remaining off-year gubernatorial election in the country, after Kentucky and Mississippi held their respective contests for governor Tuesday. Trump campaigned in those two states as well. Republicans for the most part sought to nationalize the races and Democrats tried to keep them focused on state issues.

In Mississippi, Republican Tate Reeves won a closely contested election over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who fundraised with Edwards earlier this year. 

At his rally, though, Edwards highlighted Kentucky, where Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear triumphed over unpopular Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, for whom Trump campaigned. Edwards suggested the results bode well for him, insisting the race in Louisiana will be decided on “Louisiana issues, not Washington, D.C. issues.”

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