Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said he has challenged his Republican opponents in the governor's race to three, hour-long televised debates this fall, breaking with the tradition of the last two governors to run for re-election.
Edwards said Wednesday he has accepted an invitation to Nexstar's debate on Sept. 19 in Baton Rouge and is working with possible debate partners to nail down times and locations for the other two.
The three major candidates for governor, Edwards, Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, have not yet appeared on the stage together in their race for governor. The primary election is Oct. 12, and if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top vote-getters will advance to a runoff on Nov. 16.
Mike Foster in 1999 and Bobby Jindal in 2011 were the last two governors to run for re-election, and neither debated their opponents.
Abraham's campaign responded to Edwards by asking for a debate in each congressional district, which would mean six debates throughout the state. Rispone's camp, on the other hand, agreed to Edwards' proposal, with a spokesman calling three debates "appropriate."
Gov. John Bel Edwards faced one of his Republican gubernatorial challengers for the first time Thursday, squaring off with Congressman Ralph A…
Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, did face off recently at a Public Affairs Research Council event with Abraham, R-Alto, in a policy-focused forum. Abraham and Rispone have appeared at campaign events with each other also.
The debates Edwards is seeking would be televised statewide and take place in different regions throughout the state.
To take part, Edwards' campaign said candidates would need 5,000 donations or to have received 10 percent support in three separate independent polls.
Rispone, a Republican businessman, has lent his campaign around $10 million and amassed the largest war chest in the race, slightly more than Edwards' campaign cash. Abraham is lagging behind, reporting about $1 million on hand recently.
Abraham said on Twitter that Edwards "has challenged me to three debates. Why just three? We ought to do a TV debate in every congressional district, so every Louisianian can hear how he's failed our state. See you there. Don't lie this time."
The tweet attached a video to a gubernatorial debate between Edwards and former U.S. Sen. David Vitter during the 2015 race that showed Edwards saying he would not raise taxes.
Edwards' team responded by tweeting a video of Abraham promising to donate his congressional salary to charity. Abraham began collecting his salary in his second term in office, though his campaign website continued to include the pledge as part of his platform.
"(Abraham), maybe at the three debates, while I explain how we worked with Republicans and Democrats to turn a $2 billion deficit into a surplus, you can explain why you broke your promise to donate your salary to sick kids and wounded veterans," Edwards' campaign account wrote.
“My opponents have said they want Louisiana to turn 180 degrees. Well that’s going backwards to the days of Bobby Jindal, and I won’t let that happen," Edwards said in a statement. "I am confident the people of Louisiana want to keep moving forward and am eager to contrast my vision for Louisiana with my opponents. I hope they will answer my call for three televised debates to inform voters before the October 12 election."
Rispone said he looks forward to debating the governor and his "liberal policies."
"Louisiana wants a conservative outsider, with serious business skills, not beholden to special interests to make Louisiana the best state in the south," he said in a statement.