AP NEWS

Louisiana GOP warns governor candidates against infighting

March 22, 2019
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Businessman and long-time political donor Eddie Rispone, a GOP candidate for Louisiana governor, speaks at a business event hosted by the Republican Governors Association on Monday, March 18, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s Republican Party leader is calling on GOP contenders for governor to focus their ire on Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards and avoid attacks on each other, after one Republican contender appeared to be linked to intraparty fighting.

“Our Republican candidates must wage this campaign in the knowledge that Republican infighting only assures a second victory for John Bel Edwards, and we must not let that happen!” GOP Chairman Louis Gurvich said in a statement released Thursday night.

The comments followed information that appears to connect businessman Eddie Rispone’s campaign to a website slamming fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Ralph Abraham. The website Conservative Intelligence Briefing, known as Conservative Intel, questioned the conservative bonafides of Abraham, a third-term congressman, and suggested Abraham doesn’t support President Donald Trump, who remains popular in Louisiana.

Rispone’s spokesman circulated the website post, and the Rispone campaign sent out a fundraising email through the conservativeintel.com domain.

“Clearly they were involved. They can’t deny that,” said Abraham’s political consultant Lionel Rainey. “They do business with the company, and they sent the email out.”

Rispone spokesman Anthony Ramirez didn’t respond Friday to a phone call and text message seeking comment about Gurvich’s statement or the website post .

Concerns about GOP infighting are particularly acute ahead of the October election, because Republicans blame attacks among their own candidates for helping to elect Edwards four years ago. In that 2015 race, Republican candidates Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne focused their criticism on GOP rival David Vitter instead of Edwards in the primary, and Vitter limped into a runoff against Edwards badly wounded from the hits.

Gurvich didn’t say whether he believes Rispone was directly involved in the attack on Abraham.

“However, I do think it is an appropriate time to remind our candidates that the one essential imperative of this campaign season is to defeat John Bel Edwards,” the GOP chairman said. He said personal attacks “have no place in this contest,” and he warned the “party will not permit a reprise of 2015.”

Rainey said the congressman will keep his focus on Edwards.

“You would think that we had learned our lesson,” Rainey said. “If Republicans want to beat John Bel in October, we can’t make the same mistakes that allowed him to be elected in the first place.”

The Conservative Intel post pointed to critical comments Abraham made about Trump during the presidential election after an “Access Hollywood” recording emerged in October 2016 of Trump boasting about groping women. At the time, according to The Advocate newspaper, Abraham called the comments offensive and suggested Trump should “consider whether he needs to step aside” and let his then-running mate Mike Pence lead the GOP ticket.

Since Trump took office, Abraham has been a strong backer of the president and his policies. But the Conservative Intel website said Trump supporters should “be wary.”

“Ralph Abraham and #NeverTrump candidates like him across the country should not be given a free pass. Abraham was against Donald Trump before he won the presidency, and is supportive now only out of necessity and his own self-interest,” the unsigned website post said.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte