John Bel Edwards

Gov. John Bel Edwards came out a winner in the 2019 Legislature, securing more money for teachers and schools and signing abortion restriction measures.

Good but not great.

That was the summary of the situation facing Gov. John Bel Edwards, according to Republican pollster John Couvillon of Baton Rouge.

He talked to the Press Club of Baton Rouge about the October primary for the governorship.

Edwards starts with generally favorable ratings — 50 percent positive or thereabouts in the Morning Consult polls of each of the nation’s governors, Couvillon noted.

Couvillon said Edwards benefits from a good economy and what may be called his good political work ethic: He has raised more than $10 million for the campaign and is capable of raising more.

He is traveling the state constantly as well. They’re not going to be thinking in Ruston or Lake Charles that their governor is not paying attention to them.

But what should be keeping the governor awake at night?

Couvillon pointed to the obvious, that Edwards is running “in an increasingly Republican state, and that works to his disadvantage.”

The pollster talked before the end of the legislative session, one in which budget battles of the previous years were not renewed. Edwards benefited from that circumstance, even if, Couvillon suggested, ordinary voters didn’t like the conflicts that raged during the slew of special sessions in 2016 and after.

The governor is supposed to be in charge, and the expectation that he will be fixing things was undermined by the conflicts spawned largely by the House GOP leadership against Edwards’ actions.

And Couvillon noted that those actions included significant tax increases, something the governor’s opponents are sure to highlight.

How many voters will remember that the state was left in a deep financial hole by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, and that Edwards could not have acted without support of Republicans in the Legislature? “He raised your taxes” is a simple message.

“To rebut that message is complicated,” Couvillon said.

Couvillon said the governor’s signature on strong anti-abortion legislation — without popular exceptions for rape and incest, for example — could hurt him with voters, and not just those in favor of abortion rights who are unhappy right now.

With the end of the Legislature, the governor’s race is technically on, but as Couvillon said, “the governor’s race is theoretical at this point.”

The two Republicans who want to change that are businessman Eddie Rispone, of Baton Rouge, and north Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham.

It is not hard to find warnings from Republican Party leader Louis Gurvich, of New Orleans, that the party doesn’t want candidates cutting each other up in the scramble for a runoff slot, as occurred in 2015.

Gurvich’s cautions are probably in vain: After all, the two GOP candidates are not running for third place. They will inevitably draw contrasts with each other, more fiercely as the race goes on.

Shouldn’t the governor win in the primary on Oct. 12, and if not, is he in trouble in what could be a lower-turnout November runoff?

Couvillon noted that it is very likely that lesser-known candidates will run, but if they’re attracting a few votes away from Edwards in the primary, that doesn’t mean that they won’t back the Democrat in the runoff.

He offered a historical parallel, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of New Orleans, who won over a Republican challenger in the 2002 runoff after having failed to get 50 percent in the primary.

Couvillon’s evenhanded analysis points to the positive and negatives of the race for the governor — if it happens. But it’s up to Abraham and Rispone to generate a race.

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