Gubernatorial candidate and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone wants to make sure you know he really, really, really likes Donald Trump.
“I support our president now more than ever against these liberal lunatics running now,” Rispone’s television campaign ad says.
Rispone’s already spent $5 million for current and future campaign ads. He says before it’s all over, he’ll spend twice that. Rispone, along with Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, is challenging incumbent John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, for governor.
Rispone is clearly trying to pivot off the success of fellow political novice Trump. When Trump ran for president, he got more votes in Louisiana than any candidate in state history.
Both men are rich and successful. Before Trump, Republican candidates were often shamed for being wealthy. Remember Mitt Romney? But Trump made being rich cool again.
One could argue Rispone’s story is more impressive than Trump’s. Trump has a bigger empire but got a huge head start from his wealthy father. But Rispone comes from a Baton Rouge blue-collar family. He grew up living in a one-bathroom home with six family members. And yet he ended up building a multimillion-dollar corporation employing thousands across Louisiana and Texas.
“If I wanted anything, I had to work for it,” he said.
But when it comes to political skills, thus far, Rispone has nothing on Trump. Trump burst onto the political scene. stealing all the oxygen in the room, leaving his opponents in the dust. He beat two of the most prominent and successful political families in our country’s recent history, the Bushes and Clintons. Pelted by nicknames like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Crooked Hillary,” they never knew what hit them. Trump’s success came partly as a result of not sounding like a politician. If Rispone wants to duplicate the president’s success in politics, he’ll have to forget the canned sound bites and go filterless.
Where Rispone compares to Trump most is his outsider status. Edwards was first elected to the Legislature back in 2007. And even though the incumbent governor pretends he’s running against former Gov. Bobby Jindal, Edwards, as a legislator, voted for most of Jindal’s budgets. For voters who don’t like the current direction the state is heading, Rispone has a considerable advantage over Edwards. It’s the same anti-status quo advantage Trump had over Clinton.
And Rispone can match Edwards’ $10 million war chest with his self-funded campaign. Abraham, on the other hand, has only chump change, raising a little more than one-tenth of Edwards and Rispone. If money talks in politics, this very well could end up being a two-man race as we get closer to Election Day. Although at this point, polls show Abraham leading Rispone, that could change quickly now that Rispone’s millions have begun to flow.
Rispone’s money gives him the ability to define Edwards as an incumbent. How aggressive Rispone goes after Edwards could determine the outcome of the race. Thus far, Rispone’s two TV campaign ads have yet to mention Edwards. They mostly talk of his support for Trump.
Third-party groups will also play a role. The Republican Party of Louisiana has begun to run an ad labeled “Liberal Lies.” It begins by playing a clip of former President Bill Clinton denying having sex with Monica Lewinsky. It then shows former President Barack Obama wrongly telling patients they can keep their doctors once Obamacare becomes law. The ad then cuts to Edwards promising to not raise taxes during his campaign for governor. Edwards, with the consent of the GOP Legislature, raised more than $7 billion in new taxes. After each clip, you hear the sound of a moaning donkey, the symbol of the Democratic Party. The last thing Edwards wants is for Louisiana voters, most of whom lean right, to see him as just another liberal Democrat.
Another question involves whether Rispone will use some of his considerable campaign war chest to attack Abraham, making it a repeat of the last governor’s race pitting Republican against Republican. That seems to be Edwards’ best shot at reelection. But If Rispone pounds Edwards as a tax-raising liberal, it’ll be tough for the governor to overcome in deeply conservative Louisiana — especially considering Edwards violated his promise to not raise taxes the last time he ran.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.