Gov. John Bel Edwards lost a bit of ground in an independent poll taken earlier this month compared to one in April, but the latest survey showed he remained an even bet to win the primary election outright.
He would have defeated either businessman Eddie Rispone or U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham in a head-to-head runoff held in mid-August, the poll found.
Pollster Verne Kennedy also found that the well-funded Rispone, following a TV ad barrage, jumped to within striking distance of overtaking Abraham as the strongest Republican challenger to Edwards, a Democrat.
For Edwards, the good news is this: He was on the verge of winning the primary if it had been held two weeks ago, when Kennedy conducted the survey of 600 likely voters.
After Kennedy redistributed the votes of undecided voters and black voters, the poll showed Edwards winning 52% of the vote. Abraham received 25%, while Rispone won 19%. Four minor candidates divided the other 4%. (Following his usual practice, Kennedy redistributed undecided voters based upon the decided vote, and he reallocated the votes of black voters to match the 90% that they historically give to statewide Democratic candidates, up from the 54% that Edwards received in the poll.)
The actual primary will be held on Oct. 12. Edwards would avoid the Nov. 16 runoff if he scores above 50%. Otherwise, he would face the second-place Republican.
The poll showed that, after Kennedy reallocated the votes of undecided voters and black voters, Edwards would have defeated Abraham in a runoff by 53% to 47% and Rispone by 55% to 45%.
The bad news for Edwards is that the 52% he scored in the August poll, once Kennedy had redistributed the votes, was a 6 percentage point drop compared to his April survey. Also, the margin by which the poll found Edwards would avoid a runoff – 2 percentage points – was smaller than the poll’s 4% margin of error.
In April, 52% of voters rated Edwards favorably while only 30% rated him unfavorably. In August, Edwards’ favorable-to-unfavorable gap had narrowed to 45% to 41%.
The drop didn’t surprise Kennedy.
“That’s typical of all incumbents,” the pollster said in an interview Wednesday. “They’ll be in better shape at the beginning of the campaign than in the heat of battle of a campaign.”
Kennedy surveyed voters on Aug. 13-16, a week after Edwards, Abraham, Rispone and three others qualified for the governor’s race. They are: Oscar “Omar” Dantzler, a Democrat from Hammond; Gary Landrieu, a No-Party candidate from Metairie; and Patrick “Live Wire” Landry, a Democrat from New Orleans.
By the time of the survey, Edwards and Rispone had aired several positive TV ads, while Abraham had just begun broadcasting his first one.
Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association had aired an ad that attacked Edwards on the performance of the state’s economy under his watch. Louisiana has seen little or no job growth during Edwards’ tenure, although the unemployment rate has dropped.
Kennedy said the most striking feature of the August poll was Rispone’s sharp rise.
Kennedy estimated that Abraham had about 23% and Rispone 7% in April versus 25% and 19%, respectively in August.
Rispone gained on his rival after airing two ads in which he pledged fealty to President Donald Trump and his inflammatory anti-illegal immigration rhetoric.
“Although Abraham still leads, Rispone has gained momentum faster,” Kennedy said. “If that continues, Rispone will catch him in about a month or so. Abraham needs to put more into media to keep his lead. If he doesn’t, Rispone will catch him.”
Rispone, a wealthy contractor from Baton Rouge, loaned his campaign $10 million, giving him plenty of money to introduce himself to voters. Abraham, a country doctor who represents mostly rural northeast Louisiana, had only $2 million on hand through July 5, when the last campaign finance reports were filed. Candidates will file their next campaign finance reports on Sept. 12.
In the latest poll, Kennedy tested various attack arguments against Edwards that Republicans have been airing – that the state sales tax increased from 4% to 4.45% under him; that New Orleans has been a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants under the governor; and that Louisiana under Edwards has ranked at the bottom of several state-by-state metrics.
Kennedy found that after hearing those attacks, 2% of those interviewed switched their support away from Edwards. That 2% seemed small, Kennedy said, but it could become significant enough to force the governor into a November runoff.
Kennedy has been polling Louisiana governor’s races every four years since 1991 for a rotating group of business leaders. John Georges, owner of The Advocate, is the group’s organizer.
Of those interviewed, 54% were female; and 66% were white, 30% were black and 4% were other. Of those interviewed, 44% identified as Republicans, 27% as Democrats and 19% as independents. All of these numbers match state voting patterns.
The poll showed an uptick in support for President Donald Trump in Louisiana.
In April, the president enjoyed a modest 46% to 40% favorable to unfavorable ratio. In August, the favorable-to-unfavorable gap had widened to 51% favorable against 42% unfavorable.