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In win for Trump. Democratic Louisiana governor faces runoff

Republicans, including the president, had sought to force Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards into a runoff election by keeping him under 50 percent.
Gov. John Bel Edwards last month in Baton Rouge, La.BILL FEIG / AP

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, will face a Republican candidate in a runoff after he failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote in Saturday's "jungle primary" in his GOP-friendly state.

President Donald Trump rallied on Friday in the state to support the Republican candidates on the eve of the election, calling Edwards "a liberal Democrat who has sold you out." On Saturday the president tweeted his congratulations, predicting the state would soon have businessman Eddie Rispone as a new governor.

The jungle primary meant that instead of top candidates of each party facing off one-on-one, any number of candidates from any part could compete for a final against the top two.

On Friday Trump asked both Republican candidates, Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, to join him on stage to offer brief remarks. Rispone will face Edwards after narrowly edging out Abraham.

The president said that didn't matter, as long as they kept Edwards under the 50 percent threshold in order to force a runoff next month between the governor and whoever was the top-finishing Republican.

On stage, Trump implored the Republican contenders to refrain from attacking each other: "You're not allowed to hit your Republican opponent. You're only allowed to hit John Bel Edwards."

They obliged on Friday night but it hasn't been that way during the campaign. In the final debate on Wednesday, the GOP candidates spent as much time knocking each other as they did Edwards. And in TV ads, Rispone attacked Abraham for criticizing Trump during the 2016 election, while Abraham ran an ad warning, "Eddie Rispone has been lying to you."

Edwards is the only Democrat in the Deep South and managed to remain relatively popular by breaking with his party.

A former Army Ranger who often talks about his Catholic Faith, Edwards signed one of the strictest anti-abortion bills in the country into law earlier this year and often touts his warm relations with Republicans.

His action on the abortion bill sparked a protest from Planned Parenthood in the state Capital that even the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party joined, but Louisiana Democrats knew they had few other options in a state where their party has been hemorrhaging support in recent years.

Edwards won comfortably in 2015 when his Republican opponent was former Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, whom Edwards accused of choosing "prostitutes over patriots" in an ad that reminded voters of Vitter's admitted links to a prostitution ring years earlier.

Both parties were watching Saturday's race as a potential bellwether for two upcoming gubernatorial races in the South next month, in Kentucky and Mississippi.

Democrats will have a chance to win two more elections in rough terrain on November 5. The party thinks they have a good shot at winning in Kentucky, where incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is unpopular, but Mississippi will be much tougher.

The Louisiana runoff is Nov. 16.