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Analysis: Jindal, Trump a focus in Louisiana governor’s race

By MELINDA DESLATTEJuly 28, 2019

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Candidates in the Louisiana governor’s race are spending an awful lot of time talking about two Republican men who aren’t in the competition: former Gov. Bobby Jindal and President Donald Trump.

Incumbent John Bel Edwards, seeking a second term as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor, has focused his campaign talking points on Jindal’s much-maligned financial performance and his efforts to end the repeated budget shortfalls of Jindal’s era.

Edwards’ GOP challengers, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Richland Parish and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, tout their backing of Trump and regularly publicize support for the president’s positions on issues such as immigration. Rispone has made Trump the centerpiece of his campaign, with the president the main subject of two TV ads and a near-daily reference in campaign emails ahead of the Oct. 12 election.

As he did four years ago, Edwards is running against Jindal, who ended his tenure with poor approval ratings and has avoided Louisiana’s political scene since he exited the governor’s mansion. In this campaign, Edwards is contrasting his financial stewardship of the state with the deficit-riddled years of Jindal. That was the theme of Edwards’ first television ad of this election cycle and is consistently mentioned in his campaign stops.

The Edwards campaign says the governor is running on his record, and the distinction with the Jindal years is crucial to telling that story. They also like to point out that Abraham and Rispone were Jindal backers.

“We can’t talk about where the state of Louisiana is under Gov. Edwards without talking about where we were under Jindal when this administration took over. In 2015, the state was in a ditch,” Edwards campaign spokesman Eric Holl said in a statement. He added: “Louisiana doesn’t want to go back.”

Abraham and Rispone note that when he was a state lawmaker, Edwards voted for most of the Jindal-era budgets that he now derides, and they slam the tax hikes that he and the majority-Republican Legislature used to balance the state’s budget. Abraham said Edwards talks about Jindal to avoid talking “about his terrible record of raising taxes and driving away businesses.”

While Edwards regularly evokes Jindal’s name, Rispone offers a consistent drumbeat about Trump.

Rispone’s campaign is offering “I Stand With Trump” stickers. He’s run a newspaper ad declaring “Donald Trump is right” on immigration. And his first two TV ads — the ones where the little-known candidate introduced himself to voters — are all about his support for the president. Neither ad mentions Edwards or Abraham, details about Rispone’s background or his positions on state-specific issues.

Rispone’s campaign hopes to grab viewers’ attention by talking about a president who has fixated the nation and who is popular in Louisiana, trying to piggyback off that support. Rispone spokesman Anthony Ramirez said that for the conservative voters the campaign is targeting, “support from Trump is a good litmus test.” He pushed back on suggestions that immigration was a federal issue alone, saying states and cities enact policies on the matter.

Both Rispone and Abraham want to make Trump a wedge issue for Edwards, reminding voters the incumbent governor is a Democrat in a state that has favored Republicans for statewide offices. They hope to shake whatever GOP support Edwards maintains by linking him to national Democratic leaders and their policies.

Edwards supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. But he’s sought to maintain a good relationship with the Trump administration since taking office, refusing to regularly slam Trump like many other Democrats.

Abraham and Rispone highlight the rare moments when Edwards publicly criticizes the president. Most recently, they seized on Edwards’ describing as “out of bounds” Trump’s tweets lashing out at four Democratic congresswomen of color and saying they should return to their countries, though all are American citizens.

Still, Abraham’s campaign draws a distinction with Rispone’s all-Trump focus, noting its campaign regularly talks about state-level issues, just last week releasing opinion pieces on Medicaid and the oil and gas industry.

Abraham “will always be an outspoken friend and supporter of our president — but that’s not the main focus of our campaign,” Abraham political consultant Lionel Rainey said in a statement. “Turning this state around and getting Louisiana moving in the right direction is.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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