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Gov. John Bel Edwards, right, shakes hands with businessman Eddie Rispone, center, as U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, left, prepares to speak next, during an appearance by the three Louisiana gubernatorial candidates at an Oil and Natural Gas Industry Day event in A.Z. Young Park, Wednesday, May 1, 2019.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is leading his Republican gubernatorial challengers by several points in a new poll, but is still well short of the 50% needed to win re-election.

The survey, conducted by Baton Rouge-based JMC Analytics and Polling and released at a recent Louisiana Chemical Association annual event, puts Edwards at 38% in his bid for re-election as the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. Congressman Ralph Abraham polled second, at 23%, while Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone is in single digits at 7% and 32% are undecided.

JMC owner and pollster John Couvillon said Edwards is likely at around 45%, compared to 42% for the Republicans, when allocating undecided African American voters to Edwards and undecided Republican voters to Abraham and Rispone.

“The way I look at the numbers is, Gov. Edwards is in good but not great shape,” Couvillon said.


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Edwards is also leading Abraham and Rispone in runoff scenarios, which pollster John Couvillon deems likely. The governor leads Abraham 40% to 36%, and leads Rispone 41% to 28%, in the head-to-head matchups.

The primary election is Oct. 12, and if no candidate wins more than 50%, the top two vote-getters will head to a runoff in November.

Harris, Deville & Associates, a Baton Rouge communications firm that works for several major industrial companies, paid for the poll of 650 people. The margin of error was 3.8 percentage points.

Edwards' campaign called it a "fantasy poll commissioned by vocal opponents of the governor,” and pointed instead to a recent analysis by the politics website 538 that measured the “popularity above replacement governor” for incumbents across the U.S. That analysis, which put Edwards at seventh in the country, measures the distance between a governor’s net approval rating and the state’s partisan lean, based on Morning Consult polling. "A recent independent poll by LSU also showed that more Louisianans believe our state is moving in the right direction under Governor Edwards. Our opponents want to take Louisiana back to the days of Bobby Jindal, and Louisiana doesn’t want to go back."

Couvillon's poll also found Donald Trump’s support his slipped slightly in Louisiana. While the state supported Trump during the 2016 election by a 58%-38% margin, his approval rating in the new survey is 54%, with 37% disapproval.

Lionel Rainey, senior advisor to Abraham’s campaign, said “It’s clear that Ralph Abraham is the only candidate that can beat John Bel Edwards this fall.”

“People are sick of watching Louisiana lose,” he said. “They’re ready to see Louisiana win. That’s why they’re breaking for Abraham.”

Rispone, who has far less name recognition than his two opponents, has loaned his campaign more than $10 million from his personal bank account. The co-founder of ISC Constructors, an industrial construction firm, has tried to position himself as a Trump-like candidate. 

"Gov. Edwards has a big problem: the numbers show he is not going to avoid a runoff," said Rispone spokesman Anthony Ramirez. "And once this gets to a one-on-one race, where it's Edwards vs a conservative outsider, he is toast." 

Couvillon said he thinks the campaign will likely go to a runoff. Edwards’ popularity is stronger in urban and suburban areas, especially those that have seen economic growth, than it is in smaller rural areas where Trump performs well, he said.

A national trend of Democrats performing increasingly well in urban and suburban areas appears to be playing out in Louisiana, Couvillon added.

A narrow majority also believe Edwards has been good for Louisiana’s business climate, the poll showed, with 39% agreeing and 35% saying he’s been bad for the business climate.

Couvillon said the publicly-released poll did not exclude any of the questions asked.

The survey was automated for landline respondents, representing 72%, and live caller for the 28% cell phone respondents. The demographic breakdown was 66% white and 29% black. Thirty-five percent of respondents were from New Orleans, 20% from Baton Rouge, 14% from Lafayette, 12% from Shreveport, 8% from Monroe, 6% from Alexandria and 5% from Lake Charles.

The respondents were 43% Democratic, 35% Republican and 21% independent.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.