Gov. John Bel Edwards took to the stump Tuesday in Lafayette to lay out a stark choice for voters in the governor's race this year, as battle lines in the race are drawn and Edwards' opponents step up their attacks on the incumbent Democrat. 

The governor, fresh off a legislative session where he championed a teacher pay raise, ticked off a list of what he sees as wins for the state, like expanded Medicaid, criminal justice reform and investments in colleges. 

Edwards's event Tuesday brought him before a few dozen supporters at a hot and intimate midday rally at the French Press restaurant, where he held a fundraiser earlier in the day. 

The event is part of a R.V. tour that is taking the governor to Lake Charles Tuesday afternoon. He cancelled plans to cross the state over the next few days and instead returned to Baton Rouge Tuesday night to prepare emergency personnel for the severe weather threat expected later this week.

"We have a lot of momentum in Louisiana," he said. "There are still challenges. We know that. But at least we can attack them from a position of strength." 

The Governor’s race has entered a new phase in recent days as the first wave of ads go up on voters' television screens and candidates hit the road opening field offices and rallying supporters. 

At the rally and in a statewide TV ad, Edwards cast himself as an antidote to the budget crises Louisiana experienced at the tail end of former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, and said his Republican opponents want to take the state back to those days. 

Meanwhile, his opponents, including the national group Republican Governors Association, which went up on TV with an Edwards attack ad Tuesday, painted Edwards as a tax-and-spend liberal who is hurting the state's economy.

Volunteers for Congressman Ralph Abraham's campaign stood outside the Edwards event with large signs that displayed negative news headlines about Louisiana. Abraham is one of Edwards' two challengers. The other is wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone, of Baton Rouge. 

The benefits of being an incumbent governor were also evident at the rally Tuesday. Annette Fontenot, a school secretary and Edwards supporter in Lafayette, said she was excited about the pay raise she's set to receive as part of Edwards' legislative agenda. 

Danny Uriegas, Alderman of the Village of Cankton, outside of Scott, said he came to the event to thank the governor for $189,000 in funding in the state's construction budget for the village's water system. 

"This governor said he'd help the poor people," Uriegas said. "We have a lot of poor people in Cankton. And he's helping them." 

Later Tuesday, at a campaign stop in Lake Charles, Edwards talked up the local economy, where an influx of construction jobs at state-subsidized petrochemical plants has helped boost jobs numbers. He also attacked Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry for signing onto a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. 

The Edwards camp was the first to go on TV statewide Monday with a spot that contrasts the budget deficits left by former Gov. Bobby Jindal with the state's current budget surplus. 

The Republican Governors Association swiftly hit back, going on TV Tuesday with an ad attacking Edwards' record on taxes and the economy, arguing Louisiana is being left behind as the national economy grows. 

Voters will likely see much more of those two competing messages as millions of dollars are spent on TV advertising. Edwards is seeking reelection as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, and some Republican groups are trying to prevent that from happening by tagging him as a tax-and-spend liberal who has not shown results. Edwards has pointed out the sales tax hike that anchored a budget deal last year was agreed to by the GOP-led Legislature, and that the state's current surplus enabled investments in teacher pay raises, education and other priorities. 

While Rispone is not up on TV yet, he is expected to edge out Edwards in the fundraising race when campaign finance reports come due next week. 

Rispone's campaign said it will report having more than $9.8 million of cash on hand, after Rispone lent his campaign more than $10 million in recent months. That beats out the $9.62 million the Edwards camp said it will report, which comes after a three-month fundraising blackout where the governor was barred by law from raising money. 

Abraham's campaign is expected to have far less, but recently welcomed several heavy-hitting GOP donors to its campaign finance team. Boysie Bollinger and Joe Canizaro, two prolific donors to Republican candidates and major Trump supporters, are helping the congressman raise money. 


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com