Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday drew his first Republican challenger in next year's governor's race, a deep-pocketed Baton Rouge businessman who said he's ready to spend millions of dollars challenging the Democratic incumbent.
Eddie Rispone filed state paperwork with the ethics administration office declaring his candidacy for the 2019 election.
"I am definitely running. This is it," Rispone said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Asked why he's opposing Edwards, the first-time candidate said: "I think we can do better. I know we can do better."
Founder of an industrial contracting company, Rispone is a longtime donor to GOP and conservative campaigns and causes. The wealthy businessman said he plans to invest his own money in what is expected to be an expensive governor's race.
Edwards, seeking his second term in office, reported $5 million in his campaign account earlier this year. Rispone said he's ready to invest a similar amount of his own money in the race and will start fundraising immediately.
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"I'm going to put in quite a bit. I've set aside $5 million to get started. We think it's going to cost somewhere between $8 million and $10 million," Rispone said. "I'll start reaching out to my friends around the state raising money."
Republicans have targeted Edwards for ouster since his long-shot election win in 2015. The West Point graduate and former state lawmaker is the only Democratic governor in the conservative Deep South, and he's the first Democrat to win statewide office in Louisiana since 2008. GOP leaders contend that victory was a fluke, and they've hammered Edwards as out of step with the majority of his state's voters on taxes, spending and other issues.
Edwards' approval ratings have hovered around 50 percent in recent polls.
With news of his first opponent, Edwards defended his record. He pointed to unemployment rates that have fallen below the rates when he entered office, a stabilized state budget and criminal justice law changes that helped Louisiana relinquish its title as the nation's top jailer. He said his decision to expand the state's Medicaid program has saved Louisiana millions of dollars, increased jobs and cut the uninsured rate in half.
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"I'm proud of my record as governor, and I look forward to earning another four years by continuing to put Louisiana first," the governor said in a statement.
Rispone said he'll make an official campaign announcement after the November congressional elections. He said he'll talk more then about his reasons for entering the race and his campaign platform. But he said he filed his paperwork to start fundraising.
"I didn't want to wait any longer. I wanted to get it out, start calling my friends," Rispone said.
Other Republicans are considering entering the race, including U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, Attorney General Jeff Landry and state Sen. Sharon Hewitt.