If you’re willing to look closely, you may find this cycle’s gubernatorial election doesn’t have something for everyone to enjoy, but it’s starting to get darn close for political junkies.
Consider the following:
- There are national-level ghosts that are simply haunting this race, like U.S. John Kennedy and U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, both Republicans.
- The Democratic incumbent, Gov. John Bel Edwards, is deflecting bullets like a Machiavellian Superman, but only because the projectiles are made out of paper-thin attacks that lack a narrative.
- To the right, there’s a GOP constituency that’s never happy (heavy donors and chronic operatives, we’re looking at you) no matter what anyone does.
- A pair of Republican challengers, Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, epitomize a dichotomy of fundamentals that literally fuel Louisiana politics and are equally holding them back.
Like the 2015 gubernatorial cycle, these early months of 2019 have also been peppered with suggestions that candidates other than those announced might jump in. Scalise will remain atop that list until he becomes a contender—his team believes such a scenario is unlikely—or until qualifying concludes.
Kennedy, meanwhile, is doing what Kennedy does best, which is being Kennedy.
“If (Abraham and Rispone) run good campaigns, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gov. Edwards looked at his numbers and decided not to run,” Kennedy told journalist Greg Hilburn last week.
Despite Kennedy’s suggestion, Edwards, with a race-leading campaign war chest, ain’t going anywhere. And based upon the attacks lobbed at him thus far, he may be facing the same sort of opposition landscape as 2015.
The Rispone campaign, for example, attempted to tag Edwards in a digital ad as a political compatriot of Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, which didn’t work four years ago. The Republican Governors Association also has another spot labeling the governor as a tax-loving, anti-business weirdo who is pushing commerce to Texas, either knowingly or through malfeasance.
Yet the loudest narrative in the developing race came courtesy of supporters of Abraham, who wanted Rispone to drop out, and Rispone boosters, who wanted Abraham to take it to the house. As such, the related chatter escaping from Capitoland’s quilting circles has focused on two similar mantras: Abraham is being pushed out! Rispone is getting leaned on!
Quite frankly, that sounds like every other election for governor I’ve covered. Someone always wants someone else to get out, or in, or simply in between something. Except this go-around the leading challengers include a congressman who will remain a congressman come a win or a loss, and a major league donor who will always remember how to stroke mega-checks come victory or defeat. The contrast between Abraham and Rispone reveals what truly moves this corner of the universe—position and wealth, or rather status and influence.
Which side wins out will be fun to behold, but Abraham and Rispone are likewise cultivating another level of contrast. Insiders are parroting the same lines—that Abraham has the personality but not the money to win, and Rispone has the money but not the personality to shake trees and move rooms.
There’s a little exaggeration in both of those claims, but it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on when editorial writers as diverse as Sam Hanna Jr. of The Concordia Sentinel and Tim
Morris of The Times-Picayune are getting in on the action. Here’s a peek:
Hanna: Why in the world didn’t Abraham wait until after the first of the year to announce his candidacy? If he had waited just three and a half weeks, he would not have had to report any fundraising totals until after the June 30 reporting period closed. In other words, Abraham would have had six solid months to raise money and put himself in a much better position, both financially and optically.
Morris: Convincing either Rispone or Abraham to bow out might help, but there’s not a clear-cut case for who should stay and who should go. And there is no clear party authority to make that decision.
There you have it, a snapshot of the governor’s race heading into the heights of Mardi Gras season. There are grumpy elephants everywhere, an incumbent donkey who’s looking stronger with each passing day and an electorate that’s probably more worried about beads and dancing in the streets. That’ll change eventually, too.