Eddie RIspone 070919

Baton Rouge businessman and Republican candidate for governor, Eddie Rispone speaks to the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish on Tuesday, July 9, 2019.

Negative political campaigns can work whether they’re true or not. Just ask businessman Eddie Rispone. Rispone’s ads personally attacking fellow Republican candidate Ralph Abraham have caused him to leap past the congressman in at least one poll. Rispone and Abraham are both challenging incumbent John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, for governor.

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Rispone is now in second place, according to a new poll conducted September 19-21 by JMC Analytics. The poll continues to show Edwards in the lead with 46%, Rispone with 22% and Abraham with 20%. That’s a big shift compared to another poll taken earlier by Bernie Pinsonat. It showed Edwards at 47%, Abraham at 24% and Rispone at only 16%. Another earlier poll taken by Remington Research showed Edwards with 45%, Abraham with 27%, and Rispone with only 19%.

Rispone’s rise, assuming the recent JMC Analytics poll is correct, could be a result of the businessman attacking Abraham while the congressman has only attacked Edwards. Rispone’s attacks question Abraham’s character, claiming he lied about a campaign promise to donate his congressional salary to charity, instead using the cash to buy an airplane. Abraham says he did donate his salary to charity in his first term of Congress but had to resume taking it after a House Ethics committee ruled the congressman could no longer receive private income as a part-time practicing physician.

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The Rispone ad also accuses Abraham of opposing a border wall by voting against legislation twice that would have funded it. But Abraham says he voted against the two bills because one underfunded the wall and the other granted amnesty.

Rispone also attacked Abraham for voting with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hundreds of times. But Abraham says those votes were bipartisan or minor issues such as the naming of post offices. Pelosi and Abraham voted similarly 290 times. Compare that with fellow conservative Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who voted with the Speaker 290 times, and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who voted with her 284 times. That’s out of a total of 1,200 votes cast.

Most conservative groups give Abraham high marks for his voting record, with some rating him higher than Scalise. For Rispone to try tell voters Abraham is an ally of Pelosi says more about Rispone than the congressman. I asked Anthony Ramirez, spokesman for Rispone, to defend his candidate’s attempt to convince voters Abraham supports Pelosi’s agenda.

“Career politicians on both sides of the aisle have failed Louisianans, whether it’s the failed policies of Gov. Jindal or the failed policies of John Bel Edwards or the lip service Congressman Abraham gives to the people of Louisiana," said Ramirez.

Several prominent Republicans have criticized Rispone for turning on his fellow GOP member, claiming the move could help Edwards avoid a runoff. The thinking is if Rispone convinces enough voters to switch from the congressman to Edwards, it would allow the incumbent governor to get enough votes in the primary canceling a runoff election in November.

Many Republicans also fear that even if Abraham makes the runoff, he’ll be wounded as a result of Rispone’s attacks enhancing Edwards chances of reelection. They don’t want a repeat of the 2015 election, when U.S. Sen. David Vitter was beat up so badly in the primary by his fellow Republicans that it caused him to lose to Edwards in the runoff. Ramirez isn’t buying that narrative.

“This is a much different race than 2015. Someone with a serious sin made it to the runoff. It had nothing to do with Republican infighting,” said Ramirez.

But with both Edwards and Rispone attacking Abraham, it puts the congressman at a decided disadvantage. Abraham has run ads defending himself against Rispone’s attacks, but he has yet to go negative on his fellow Republican.

Rispone's spending of a fortune attempting to convince voters Abraham is a Pelosi liberal is a gift for Edwards. If it leads to an Edwards victory, the governor should consider replacing Jay Dardenne as his Commissioner of Administration with Rispone. Edwards rewarded Dardenne with the job after he played a pivotal role as a candidate in giving the governor his first term. Rispone very well may be the key to the governor winning a second term. Why not do the same for Rispone as he did for Dardenne?

Email Dan Fagan at faganshow@gmail.com.