Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards wins re-election in blow to Trump

The president had visited the state three times in five weeks to support Republican challenger Eddie Rispone in the runoff.
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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards arrives to address supporters at his Election Night watch party in Baton Rouge on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.Matthew Hinton / AP

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By Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — Democrat John Bel Edwards narrowly won a second term as governor of Louisiana, beating Republican challenger Eddie Rispone by 1.4 percentage points and delivering another blow in off-cycle elections to President Donald Trump.

"Our shared love for Louisiana is always more important than the partisan differences that sometimes divide us," Edwards said as he celebrated his victory with supporters.

"And as for the president, God bless his heart," Edwards continued.

Edwards was up by over 19,000 votes with 96 percent of precincts reporting Saturday night, according to The Associated Press.

"I am disappointed, if I am being very honest," Rispone said in his concession speech.

"By the way, can we give President Trump a round of applause? That man loves America, and he loves Louisiana. He came down here three times specifically to try and help us," Rispone added.

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Edwards' victory in a state that Trump carried by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016 highlights the limits of nationalizing local races. Rispone, a wealthy businessman and longtime Republican donor, tied himself to Trump. He often railed against illegal immigrants and portrayed Edwards as a "liberal, socialist-leaning governor."

But Edwards, a conservative Democrat, managed to remain fairly popular by frequently breaking with national Democrats. He signed into law one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country, favored gun rights and touted his willingness to work with Republicans, including Trump.

Edwards also earned a level of goodwill in his first term for his focus on local issues, such as ending the budget crisis created by his predecessor and expanding Medicaid.

Kentucky elected Attorney General Andy Beshear over Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, despite Trump's campaign efforts in the state.

Edwards was a top target for the GOP as the Republican National Committee spent $2 million to defeat him and Trump visited the state three times in five weeks to support Rispone.

Before the polls closed Saturday, Trump tweeted multiple times encouraging voters to support Rispone.

Edwards narrowly missed the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright win in the October jungle primary, in which every candidate runs against one another on the same ballot regardless of party. He took 46 percent of the vote, Rispone 27 percent and Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham about 23 percent.

Although Abraham endorsed and campaigned for Rispone in the runoff, it was not enough to push him over the finish line.

Edwards was elected in 2015 in what many viewed as a fluke election owing to a flawed Republican opponent mired in a prostitution scandal.