Political strategists often say incumbent candidates face an uphill battle when a high percentage of voters remain undecided. The idea is if they don’t like you by now, they never will. This is why the latest poll involving this year’s race for Louisiana governor is devastating for John Bel Edwards.
More than one in three likely voters questioned by the Baton Rouge-based JMC Analytics and Polling told the firm they’re undecided about who to vote for in the governor’s race. Typically, undecided voters swing away from incumbents as Election Day approaches.
This is especially true when the incumbent is a Democrat. The media is often more supportive of Democrats than Republicans, and that has certainly been the case with Edwards. Much of the state’s media supported the governor’s “fiscal cliff” and “financial crisis” narrative while savaging House Republican’s for initially standing against the governor’s tax increases. And yet with all that positive coverage, one in three remain undecided about Edwards. Once Edwards' political opponents begin to run ads presenting the other side of the story of his first term, his polling numbers are sure to fall.
The new poll has more devastating news for Edwards. An embarrassingly low 38% of the 650 likely voters in the poll conducted between April 25 and 27 said they support Edwards. That meager support after three and half years of mostly favorable media coverage shows Edwards is in real trouble.
The governor may take comfort in the poll showing his 38% leading his Republican challengers, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham with 23% and businessman Eddie Rispone with 7%, in a three-way race. But with only 38%, Edwards has little chance of avoiding a runoff. He’ll need 50%, plus one, for that.
In a two-way runoff between Edwards and Abraham, the two candidates are statistically tied considering the margin of error.
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“The biggest takeaway from this poll is that Dr. Abraham is within the margin of error in a head-to-head match up with John Bel Edwards, despite having half the name recognition of the sitting governor,” said John Vick, Abraham’s campaign manager.
Common sense would dictate once political ads begin to expose Edwards for his tax-raising ways, anti-business bent, and litigation crusade targeting the energy industry, the governor’s sure to fall behind Abraham in deeply red Louisiana.
And then there’s Donald Trump. The Republican president is widely popular in Louisiana. Edwards has gone out of his way to stay on his good side, bragging Trump once told him he’s his favorite Democrat. But if Trump actively campaigns for Abraham in the runoff, it could be the end of the Edwards era in Louisiana. And the president would have every motivation to do so. Helping defeat an incumbent Democrat governor a year before the president’s re-election bid would provide positive momentum for Trump.
Trump is traveling to Louisiana next week. It’s no secret the president likes it when people kiss up to him. Like him, he likes you. If Edwards were ever to perfect the art of being a suck-up, now would be the time.
Another challenge Edwards is facing is explaining why he’s a Democrat in the first place. Louisiana voters are sure to question why Edwards aligns himself with a party with presidential candidates embracing the Green New Deal, supporting Medicaid for all, and infanticide. They may wonder why Edwards supports a party increasingly shifting away from capitalism and toward socialism.
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“Voters see John Bel as a reflection of national Democrat policies in America, and we have one of the worst economies in the nation, and then they see Ralph Abraham as a representation of Trump and Trump’s economic policies, and he can turn this thing around just like Trump has done on a national level,” said Lionel Rainey, political consultant to Abraham.
Some may argue Edwards surprised everyone the last time he ran and could do it again. But last time, Edwards employed the holier-than-thou approach, attacking opponent David Vitter’s character. Unless Abraham has some deep, dark secret we don’t know about, Edwards will have to run on his record this year. Boasting about his honor code won’t cut it this time.
Email Dan Fagan at email@example.com. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.