JBE lademos endorsement

Gov. John Bel Edwards accepts the Louisiana Democratic Party's endorsement in his bid for a second term during a Democratic State Central Committee meeting at the State Capitol on Saturday, March 9, 2019.

The Louisiana Democratic Party threw its official support behind Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reelection bid over the weekend, as everyone knew it would. The only real suspense as the race develops is whether any more Republicans will join the fight.

Yet another rumored contender appeared to fall by the wayside last week, when former U.S. Rep. John Fleming won U.S. Senate approval as the new assistant secretary of commerce for economic development. Fleming had already been serving the Trump administration in a different capacity, but by seeking a new job, he essentially confirmed that his near-term aspirations lie in Washington rather than Baton Rouge.

That puts Fleming in good company. Despite some obvious wishful thinking among Republican partisans, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise has never wavered from his unequivocal insistence that he will not be a candidate. After a long flirtation with a run, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said he’d stay put. Jeff Landry opted for a national perch as president of the National Association of Attorneys General and has also bowed out.

That leaves two much lesser-known announced candidates, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, to take on Edwards.

Neither has set the world afire on the fundraising front, as of yet. Reports covering activity through the end of 2018 showed Abraham, who won reelection to his northeast Louisiana congressional seat last fall even as he was plotting his gubernatorial run, with $350,000 on hand. Rispone raised $550,000 from donors, and put up $5 million of his own money.

That’s far short of Edwards’ $8.4 million stash. And a political action committee supporting the governor’s reelection has another $2.1 million socked away.

There are outside entities opposing Edwards’ candidacy too, but things aren’t going so well for them, either. A group calling itself Truth in Politics, co-founded by major Republican donor Lane Grigsby, had to alter a radio spot recently when some stations refused to run it after Edwards disputed its accuracy.

The original ad focused on Edwards’ general skepticism of charter schools and taxpayer-financed private school vouchers, which is fair game. But it also claimed that Edwards didn’t fund early childhood education, “not a dime,” which isn’t true. Edwards hasn’t included as much as some would like in his proposed spending plan for next year, but he certainly hasn’t zeroed the category out. In the current fiscal year, according to the governor’s office, $38 million in general fund dollars went to early childhood education, which allowed the state to draw down $92 million in federal funds.

The attack was the latest in a series of hits that have pretty much missed.

Republicans went after Edwards for holding a recent business summit, which they claimed was basically a campaign event in disguise. Republican Gov. Mike Foster held a similar event back in the day, invoking no controversy.

Then there’s the party’s long-running complaint that Edwards signed tax increases. He did, but only after they were passed by the Republican-majority Legislature. And there’s really no sign that voters at large prefer the budget chaos of the late Bobby Jindal years to the relative stability now.

None of this is to say that Edwards will have clear sailing through October, or that he should. Louisiana remains a generally Republican state, and after three years, any incumbent would have actions to answer for.

So far, though, he appears to be fortunate, both in the identity of his opponents and in his critics’ choice of subject matter.

Things are certainly looking better for him than they did four years ago at this time, when he was still considered a longshot in the race against three much more prominent Republicans, then-U.S. Sen. David Vitter, then-Lieutenant Gov. and now top Edwards budget adviser Jay Dardenne, and then-Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.

To beat them all, Edwards needed to have both skill and luck on his side. Could he get that lucky again?


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.