Republican gubernatorial contender Eddie Rispone spent Thursday pleading with supporters statewide to get to the polls, and tell their friends and neighbors to do the same, so that the wealthy businessman qualifies for a runoff with Gov. John Bel Edwards.

"Get fired up, be aggressive," Rispone told about 35 backers at a Lafayette restaurant, who greeted the slightly-built candidate with chants of "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie."

"Don't offend anyone but be aggressive," he said. "Don't be shy about it. Tell your friends."

On Thursday the campaign made get-out-the-vote stops in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria and Lake Charles.

Similar visits are scheduled for New Orleans and Shreveport on Friday, with Rispone scheduled to finish the day at President Donald Trump's pre-election rally in Lake Charles.

Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman, is battling fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, for second spot in what they hope will be a Nov. 16 runoff with Edwards.

Polls say the governor is flirting with the magic 50 percent plus one vote he needs to end the campaign, and ensure a second term.

Rispone and Abraham are trying to edge each other, and keep Edwards below his target.

Lafayette and the rest of Acadiana is one of the battlegrounds in Rispone's bid for votes in GOP-friendly parts of south Louisiana, including the northshore of New Orleans and the Lake Charles and Houma areas.

"It appears that both Eddie and Ralph are running strong here," said state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette and a Rispone supporter.

State Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, who has not taken sides in the Risponse-Abraham contest, made the same point.

"I think the battle for second is going to be really close," Emerson said.

Cortez and Emerson both said lots of their constituents are angry about what  they view as unfair attacks on the oil and gas industry -- the lifeblood of the region.

Rispone told Lafayette listeners, "What about about Acadiana? Did you lose 20,000 jobs since 2015?"

"He (Edwards) thinks we are stupid," he said. "We are going to stop this assault on the oil and gas industry."

Rispone backers drew comparisons between their candidate and Trump's 2016 presidential run – a political outsider with sharp business skills.

"I think that he is pro-Trump and pro-life," said Pam West, who lives in Greenwell Springs and showed up at the candidate's morning rally at a Baton Rouge breakfast spot.

"And I like that he is not really a politician, like Trump," West added.

Rispone, who has kept his policy proposals to a minimum, has made his unqualified devotion to Trump a key part of his campaign.

The president has urged voters to back Abraham or Rispone, without choosing one over the other.

Paul Frey, a Baton Rouge resident who grew up in Acadia Parish, has known Rispone for 35 years and calls him an ideal candidate for governor.

Frey said some of his friends who are farmers like Abraham because of his agriculture assistance as a congressman.

"I said 'Guys the governor does not have a lot to do with farm policy,'" he recalled. "Don't know whether I have gotten through to them a lot."

Rispone, who has never run for office, always touts his outsider role despite making hefty contributions to GOP contenders in the past.

"We need an outsider, we need a CEO, someone with business skills," he told about 60 boisterous backers in Baton Rouge.

Backers waved away criticism that it was Rispone, against the wishes of state Republican leaders, who ignited the intra-party squabbling with TV ads blasting Abraham.

Similar bickering in 2015 paved the way for Democrat Edwards' lopsided win over David Vitter.

Grant Gil, a contractor who lives in Broussard, said candidates have to draw lines if they hope to win.

"They really haven't gotten too dirty," Gil said. "You have to call out the differences. Why should I vote for one over the other?"

Rispone said in an interview, "I got attacked on both sides," a reference to Edwards and Abraham.

"I am not going to just sit back and let that happen," he said. "I am not going to let people spread lies about me."

Rispone's campaign is largely self-funded, and the candidate has poured more than $11 million into his bid.

Ginger Doucet, who lives in Milton, said she views that as a plus.

"And I think that kind of person is not going to be tied to the establishment," Doucet said.

Rispone, 70, is making his first bid for office.

Friends who have known him for years say he has gradually embraced the role, overcoming early nervousness in the three televised debates.

"It's been a long, long road," said Thad Rispone, the candidate's oldest son who introduced him to the Baton Rouge gathering. "We have seen dad turn into a true candidate."

Others prefer the political novice.

"He is straight forward, he doesn't put up with a lot," said Greg Stelly, who attended the Lafayette gathering. 

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.