The three major candidates for governor will meet in their third and final statewide televised debate Wednesday night, in Shreveport, only three days before Saturday’s primary.
Produced by Gray Television, the one-hour debate will air at 7 p.m. on WVUE-TV in New Orleans, WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, KATC-TV in Lafayette and on other Gray stations in Louisiana and also via livestreaming on the stations’ websites.
The debate takes place with President Donald Trump and Republican groups mounting a furious final-week campaign to stop Gov. John Bel Edwards from topping the magic 50% mark, which would earn him re-election.
The Democratic governor’s two Republican challengers – U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone – are fighting for second place and a spot in the runoff if Edwards can’t clear 50%.
The three candidates will have the opportunity to question one another during Wednesday night’s debate, as they did at the last debate, on Sept. 26, a format that produced some of that evening’s hottest moments.
Wednesday night’s debate features Edwards, Abraham and Rispone once again because they were the only candidates who received more than 5% in a poll taken for Gray by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. In the poll, Edwards received 45%, Rispone 22% and Abraham 17%.
Of the respondents who didn’t pick one of the top three, 10% were undecided and 4% favored one of the three minor candidates: Oscar “Omar” Dantzler, a Democrat from Hammond; Gary Landrieu, an independent candidate from Metairie; and Patrick “Live Wire” Landry, a Republican from New Orleans.
The Mason-Dixon poll of 625 registered voters had a margin of error of 4% and was conducted from Oct. 1-4.
In another recent poll of 600 voters, Edwards had 51% versus 19% for Abraham and 19% for Rispone, 11% were undecided and 0% for the minor candidates. This poll was taken on Oct. 1, 2 and 7 by Florida-based pollster Verne Kennedy for a group of businessmen – including John Georges, who owns The Times-Picayune | The Advocate. It also had a 4% margin of error.
In this poll, Kennedy redistributed the undecided black voters to give Edwards 90% of their vote, to reflect historical voting patterns. This means that all 11% of the undecided voters in Kennedy’s poll are white. Kennedy thinks the three candidates will split that vote.
Even if Edwards doesn’t win outright on Saturday, Kennedy’s poll found encouraging information for the incumbent governor. He enjoys a 56%-30% favorable to unfavorable rating, compared to 33%-34% for Abraham and 35%-30% for Rispone.
Wednesday night’s debate takes place just days after Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, came to Louisiana to rally Republicans to back either Abraham or Rispone. The president himself – who has not expressed a preference between Rispone and Abraham – is scheduled to make the same case Friday night in Lake Charles, about 12 hours before voting booths open.
Pence explicitly framed the race as a referendum on Trump, telling a Republican crowd in Kenner “to send a message” to Washington that Louisiana supports the president, now the subject of an impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House. Pence’s message is rooted in the fact that Trump won 58% of Louisiana’s vote in 2016.
Abraham tapped into Republican anger with Democrats in Washington on Wednesday with a tweet calling for the House to expel Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It received 1,100 comments.
Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association and Truth in Politics, an advocacy group founded by longtime GOP donor and Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, are trying to chip away at the governor’s support among women.
Both groups are airing television ads that attack Edwards for having employed Johnny Anderson, a senior aide who had to resign in 2017 after a subordinate named Juanita Washington accused him of sexual harassment.
Washington appears in the Truth in Politics ad and says the governor didn’t protect her from Anderson’s unwanted advances.
She also came to Louisiana on Tuesday when Truth in Politics announced that it is filing a lawsuit against the Edwards administration for not supplying public records that it has requested. The Edwards campaign countered with words of support from women at a press conference on Tuesday and in a new TV launched on Monday.
Anderson’s name will undoubtedly come up during Wednesday night’s debate. Likely other topics: the state’s budget surplus, the governor’s push with the Republican-majority Legislature to increase the state sales tax, the governor’s education policies, Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid to the working poor and his push with the Legislature to revamp Louisiana’s sentencing laws. Those changes permit some non-violent offenders to win early release and for the state to reinvest some of the savings in programs that aim to better integrate the released inmates into society.
As the incumbent governor, Edwards has had to defend his record during the campaign and during the first two debates.
Abraham has tried to keep the focus on the governor but has had to face attacks from Rispone.
Rispone has not told voters what he would do as governor other than to promise to seek a call to rewrite Louisiana’s 1974 constitution.