Appearing alone before a Baton Rouge forum Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards took a swipe at his Republican opponent, Eddie Rispone, for skipping so many events.

"Where’s Eddie?" Edwards asked the Press Club of Baton Rouge to underscore how few forums and traditional campaign events his Republican challenger in the Nov. 16 runoff has attended.

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Gov. John Bel Edwards prepares Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, to address the Press Club of Baton Rouge. Republican opponent, Eddie Rispone, did not show up.

Rispone was preparing for a visit from Vice President Mike Pence, who came to Louisiana for the second time in a month to help flip the state’s governorship to Republican. Pence went to a closed-door fundraiser for Rispone.

“I’ve been all over this state. He just hasn’t been following me around,” Rispone said on the airport tarmac waiting for Pence, who arrived about 4:15 p.m.

“He’s just doing his thing, that’s what politicians do, what else can I tell you,” Rispone added.

The only time Rispone is scheduled to share the stage with Edwards will be Wednesday for a debate televised statewide and sponsored by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the Council for a Better Louisiana.

Pence was greeted on the tarmac at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport by Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and Kyle Ardoin, who is in a runoff for reelection to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The vice president’s motorcade traveled through Baton Rouge streets at rush hour on its way to Dearman’s, an old burger and milkshake spot in the Bocage neighborhood.


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Pence took photographs and signed autographs with customers, urging them to vote for Rispone for governor. At one point, Pence spoke on the phone with an employee’s mother. A jubilant Rispone repeatedly reminded people early voting begins Saturday in the race.

“I hope you all know Eddie Rispone would be a great governor for Louisiana,” Pence told patrons. He ignored a question about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

After the pit stop, Pence left for the Country Club of Louisiana, a gated community, for a private fundraiser for Rispone’s campaign.

It was the first visit since Rispone, a wealthy businessman and longtime Republican donor, won a coveted spot in a runoff election against Edwards in the Oct. 12 primary.

Rispone loaned his campaign more than $11.5 million in the primary, most of it spent on TV ads that praised Trump. He’s trying to nationalize the campaign, making the race about support for the president.

Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, and his reelection bid has drawn intense focus from national Republicans, as well as millions of dollars in attack ads.

Rispone famously has avoided being too specific about his plans for Louisiana, which Edwards picked at saying what ideas that have surfaced sound like retreads of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policies.

"What are the specific things that he wants to do?" Edwards asked.

Edwards drew several distinctions with Rispone.

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Vice-President Mike Pence greets well wishers at the airport after arriving to attend a fundraiser for Eddie Rispone, right, Monday Oct. 28, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.

For instance, Rispone was an early supporter of vouchers and pushed Jindal to expand the use of state money to pay private school tuition for students whose public school is failing. Edwards points out that he opposed vouchers in the Louisiana House because the program didn’t have much accountability.

Edwards noted that some of the worst schools in the state now are voucher schools that entice parents to move their children.

“We’re doing much, much better today because we came together in a bipartisan way,” Edwards told the Press Club.

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Vice-President Mike Pence, second from left, arrives to attend fundraiser for Eddie Rispone, left, Monday Oct. 28, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, second from right, and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, right, were there for the arrival.

An agreement negotiated last year with the Republican majority Legislature cut services, raised the state sales tax and suspended tax breaks stabilized state government’s budget, which had been in crisis throughout Jindal’s term, for the next several years. Stabilizing the budget allows the state to start investing in services like public school teacher raises and increased funding for early education.

Edwards, who came up 3½ percentage points shy of winning reelection outright in the Oct. 12 primary, said voters are more engaged in the runoff now that the choice is down to two candidates.

“The biggest thing is the stark choice,” between Eddie Rispone and he, Edwards said. “(Rispone) is by far the more extreme of the two Republicans in the race."

Rispone has defined himself mainly through his support of President Donald Trump, who won Louisiana by 20 percentage points and remains popular in the state. Trump is backing Rispone.

Edwards dismissed the president’s opposition, saying Trump is doing what is expected of him by the Republican Party, which wants to oust the Deep South’s only Democratic governor. Edwards noted that when it comes to governing, Trump invited Edwards to the White House nine times.

“Trump is coming,” Rispone said, “get everybody fired up. He really is caring a lot about Louisiana.”

Trump is expected to return to Louisiana and campaign against Edwards sometime during the next two weeks.

Both Pence and Trump visited Louisiana ahead of the Oct. 12 primary election to rally Republican voters. Pence rallied in Kenner a week before the primary, while Trump visited Lake Charles and railed against Edwards on taxes, urging supporters to go to the polls on the eve of the election.

Edwards said his pollster has him hitting the necessary half the vote plus one to win the runoff.

Rispone said his polling looks good. “We’re right there. It’s just a matter of turnout,” he said.

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com