Gov. John Bel Edwards has won an incredibly tight race for reelection in Louisiana, hanging onto his seat as the sole Democratic governor in the Deep South.
Edwards faced an intense challenge from Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, who aligned himself tightly with Trump and touted the president’s endorsement during the campaign. Rispone’s loss marks the second time in recent weeks when Trump’s endorsement hasn’t been enough to boost a candidate to victory in a heavily Republican state. (Republican Gov. Matt Bevin also lost his reelection race in Kentucky.)
Edwards, since his upset of former Sen. David Vitter in 2015, has been the rare Democrat holding statewide office in Louisiana. Of the state’s Congressional delegation, seven of the eight members are Republican, and both the Louisiana House and Senate are poised to hit Republican supermajorities this year.
Edwards won re-election by casting himself as a conservative Democrat who supports Medicaid expansion and increases in teacher salaries while backing stringent restrictions to abortion rights. He’s sought to downplay disagreements with Trump and was the only Democrat invited to the president’s first-ever state dinner last year.
As part of his campaign, Edwards also touted another achievement he made in office: He helped the state recover from an overwhelming deficit it faced prior to his tenure, pushing through a tax plan that has since led to a $500 million annual surplus this year. These successes, coupled with his own background as a West Point graduate and devoted Catholic, likely helped him reach both independents and moderate Republicans.
What Edwards’s victory means
Edwards’s win suggests that Democrats still have the potential to win in states like Louisiana, where Republicans are increasingly dominating rural districts.
“A John Bel win would mean that the Democratic moderate is not dead in the South,” pollster and political strategist John Couvillon previously told Vox. “You don’t need to write the South off a hundred percent of the time.”
It’s also the latest rebuke of Trump’s endorsement, a sign that its influence may be waning in competitive races. Trump most recently campaigned for Rispone on the Thursday ahead of the election. “You have to give me a big win, please, okay?” he said.
Edwards’s victory is central to Democrats maintaining a foothold in the state, where Republicans in the legislature are gearing up for a redistricting process following the 2020 census.
Though final turnout numbers will take some time, Edwards’s victory likely reflects strong turnout from African American voters and overwhelming backing from the electorate for Medicaid expansion, which wound up providing coverage to more than 400,000 state residents. Plus, the closeness of the race indicates just how fired up both Democrats and Republicans are going into 2020, suggesting that turnout is on track to be strong next year.