BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With the Deep South's only Democratic governor in a fight to hold his seat in an increasingly red state, you'd think the Louisiana governor's race would be intensely heated. Instead, it's been fairly ho-hum so far.
The major candidates — Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, and wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone — or their surrogates have engaged in minor skirmishes and regularly traded attacks on social media.
But no one's launched a major television ad campaign. Edwards and his two GOP challengers haven't traded jabs in a debate. The candidates haven't released lengthy policy platforms for the next four-year term or visions for Louisiana's future. The Republican contenders aren't releasing schedules of campaign events yet.
"I don't think we're going to have a feel for things until the race really starts, and it hasn't really started yet. It will start when people go up on television, (looking at) the amount of resources they have, how they spend those resources," Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, a veteran of political races, said last week when asked about the gubernatorial contest.
The below-the-public-radar vibe appears likely to start changing soon, as the Aug. 6-8 election sign-up period nears, often the unofficial uptick in public campaigning and appearances.
Campaigns say they are readying for their onslaught of TV ads, though none have publicly released a schedule yet. Meanwhile, Edwards started a statewide RV tour Saturday that continues all week, as he swings into full campaign mode.
Up to now, the most intense attention in the governor's race happened months ago, amid the wait to see which big-name Republicans would jump into the competition. In the end, none of them did. Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and Attorney General Jeff Landry passed on the race.
Rispone and Abraham then entered. They've started from behind, needing to build name identification since they were little-known among many Louisiana voters. Rispone, founder of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, is a long-time GOP political donor running for his first elected office. Abraham, a doctor from rural Richland Parish in northeast Louisiana, is a third-term congressman.
Edwards' attention from April through early June often centered on the disputes of the regular legislative session. Meanwhile, his Republican challengers were largely focused on rallying support from GOP donors and groups, trying to prove their viability and position themselves as the best competitor to defeat Edwards.
While all three candidates run on the ballot together, the Republicans are trying to build campaigns from the same base of support.
Abraham has sought to suggest Republican support is coalescing around his candidacy by announcing a campaign finance committee chaired by shipbuilder Donald "Boysie" Bollinger and New Orleans real estate developer Joe Canizaro, who also are co-chairs of President Donald Trump's campaign finance operation in Louisiana.
Rispone didn't comment on Abraham's announcement. It's unclear if any fundraising statement will shake Rispone, who's indicated he's willing to largely self-finance his candidacy and already put $10 million of his own cash into his campaign account.
The last campaign finance reports were filed in April, with Abraham far behind both Edwards and Rispone in cash in the bank. Abraham reported $1 million in his account, compared to $10.2 million for Edwards and $10.5 million for Rispone. Also in the race is Gary Landrieu, an independent candidate who hasn't reported any fundraising, but who is on a bus tour and says he intends to visit every parish in Louisiana.
Updated campaign finance reports are due to the state ethics administration office next week. They won't show much activity for Edwards, who faced a three-month fundraising blackout during the legislative session and the post-session month when he decided whether to sign or veto bills. The blackout period ended last weekend.
Beyond fundraising, Louisiana public policy groups hope candidates will start shopping more specific issue ideas as they seek to win voter support.
"This is a critical time for Louisiana. We sit at the bottom of more lists than we can count, and though we've seen progress in some areas, we know we need to do more," the Council for A Better Louisiana said in a recent statement.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte
Posted on Tue, July 9, 2019
by By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press