John Bel Edwards stock

Advocate file photo of current Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

To win re-election, Gov. John Bel Edwards hopes to get by with a little help from his friends. If, that is, their efforts don’t draw much scrutiny.

Having governed as a liberal in a red state, the Louisiana Democrat faces a choppy path in October to another four years. Even when watered down by a Republican-led Legislature, his policies over the past three years have produced tax hikes and 40 percent higher state spending. Louisiana has one of the worst economies in the country with almost no net new jobs created.

Fortunately for him, some sympathetic interest groups have stepped up to distract voters from his record and vulnerability. Better still, the mainstream media seems willing to echo these messages without digging deeper into their validity.

One of the groups is Education Reform Now Advocacy, which advocates for charter schools, an ironic pairing since as a legislator and governor Edwards has attempted to rein in those schools. The group usually supports Democrats and recently released poll results showing Edwards leading his two announced challengers, Republican businessman Eddie Rispone of Baton Rouge and GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham from North Louisiana.

Gannett news outlets reported Edwards grabbing 47 percent of the vote, with Abraham at 17 percent and Rispone at 4 percent, leaving almost a third of respondents undecided.

On the surface, those numbers show that Edwards is more than holding his own — except that 53 percent of the sample identified as Democrats. The story didn’t mention that registered Democrats comprised about 47 percent of the electorate in the past six statewide elections, and only 43 percent of total registrants.

Plus, registered voter statistics overestimate Democrat support in Louisiana. Many of them identify as Republicans and vote consistently for GOP candidates. Reweighting the results for a sample of just 47 percent Democrats, willingness to vote for Edwards falls into the low forties.

That’s notable, because historically in American politics few statewide incumbents polling at that level win re-election. Democratic former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu polled similarly when she attempted reelection in 2014 and lost handily. But you wouldn’t know that from the story, which neglected to infuse this greater context.

Also, at the end of January the leftist political action committee American Bridge, which specializes in attack ads on Republicans, issued a digital advertisement claiming Abraham should “show up for work” because he missed votes in Congress over the past couple of months.

The video seems not to have wide viewership. As of the middle of last week, it was viewed outside of the ad fewer than 40 times. The video said Abraham lacked the desire to resolve the partial federal government shutdown.

Despite the narrow viewership — internet algorithms suggest that only strong partisans would have seen the ad, and few who view these typically venture to click on them — the ad piqued The Advocate’s interest, which reported on it. The story included comments by spokesmen from American Bridge and a party organization as well as by Edwards, all implying that Abraham would abandon Louisianans when it suited him.

Yet Abraham, as his spokesman said and as was reported in the article, has one of the better voting attendance marks over his four years in Congress. He missed only 1.2 percent of roll call votes, although since the start of 2018 that rate jumped to just under 5 percent. And if this means not doing your job, consider that Edwards didn’t show up for 5.1 percent of his legislative votes in 2015 while running for governor, but the story didn’t delve into that level of detail.

With the contest a high priority for both Democrats and Republicans nationally, supporters for Edwards will seek to divert attention from his disappointing tenure. Backers of his opponents must find ways to cut through that noise.


Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com and writes about Louisiana legislation at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.