Alford: The many faces of the governor’s race

They just keeping coming. 

There are the super PACs connected (some firmly, others loosely) to the campaigns, ready and willing to spend money (lots of it) to bend the electorate. Then there are the gubernatorial arms of both parties, which are pushing to make sure there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the Governor’s Mansion.

Now officials with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee are saying they plan to spend resources on Louisiana’s race for governor. The USA Today Network recently reported the committee “aims to flip statehouses and expand the party’s majority,” and that Andrea Stewart-Cousins, New York’s Senate majority leader, is its new chair.

So what would bring a legislative-level organization wading into our gubernatorial election? (Especially where the Legislature is fire engine red.)

If you guessed redistricting, you were right. Here’s the relevant blip from the USA Today story: 

“The group said it is focused on winning control this November of the Virginia General Assembly, retain a supermajority in the New Jersey Legislature, preserve the governor’s veto power in Louisiana and break the Republican supermajority in Mississippi.”

That was relatively minor news in the governor’s race last week, especially with the candidates and political action committees filing the latest round of campaign finance reports with the Ethics Administration.

The big winner of the week was GUMBO PAC, which is being guided by consultant Trey Ourso to improve the re-election hopes of Gov. John Bel Edwards. The PAC scooped up a cool half million from the Democratic Governors Association, bringing its cash on hand to $2.7 million. 

The PAC action from last week was a reminder that there are a whole bunch of different personalities and outfits to keep tabs on this cycle. To bring us all up to speed, here’s a rundown of where the rest of the money game stands as of late July:

Congressman Ralph Abraham: $1.3 million in the bank; $800,000 raised and $473,000 spent in the second quarter;

Abraham’s federal campaign account: $46,000 in the bank, all of which could be transferred to his state account, depending on your interpretation of existing caselaw;

Edwards: $9.6 million in the bank; $33,000 raised and $598,000 spent in the second quarter (The governor faced a temporary fundraising blackout during and after this year’s regular session);

Edwards’ Louisiana Leadership PAC: $39,000 in the bank, after it spent $147,000 out of $187,000 in the second quarter on vendors and office startup costs;

Businessman Eddie Rispone: $9.8 million in the bank; he raised $277,000 and spent $853,000 in the second quarter; more than $10 million from Rispone was loaned to his campaign.

Rispone leads Edwards in cash on hand, but only barely and it came from his own pockets. But it’ll spend just as good as Edwards’ dough. That much is clear.

The Baton Rouge businessman far outspent his opposition in the second quarter, shelling out roughly $200,000 on staff, top vendors and related costs; $135,000 on consulting services; $128,000 on a “statewide modeling program;” $70,000 on printing and signs; $57,000 on polling; and $10,000 on a billboard in Port Allen.

Abraham was the only candidate who did not spend more money than he raised during the second quarter. But he’s also behind on the money game overall. Look for him to run a smart, grassroots campaign—possibly with a new influx of cash from a heavy-hitting finance committee.

As for Rispone, his personal wealth continues to fuel most of the chatter surrounding the race, patricianly this week. Various media reports confirmed a statewide television ad buy Monday from the Rispone campaign that’s expected to be in excess of $1 million. It largely focuses on Rispone’s support of President Donald Trump.

In a not-too-surprising move, the Democratic-leaning American Bridge released a web video the same day attacking Rispone for his support of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, not the sitting president. 

That jives with the messaging from Edwards this month, which he has spent on the campaign trail reminding voters why they are better off with him as governor as compared to Jindal. It’s an interesting strategy that beckons back to a bygone era in Louisiana politics, but Edwards’ team must have polling that shows Jindal is the perfect foil.

Still, anyone who witnessed Jindal’s time at the top knows at least one thing to be true—he wasn’t known for his coattails. Edwards has done a little better, helping to elect mayors and shifting votes in Democratic strongholds. But like Jindal, he will not be remembered for his coattails. 

Who does have coattails is Trump. He can hop down here, whip up a crowd, kick up some resources and put voters in booths. At least that’s what we’ve seen him do in the recent past, and in other states.

If Edwards has anything going for him on this front, it may be that the president’s net approval rating in Louisiana has decreased by 17 percentage points since he took office, according to Morning Consult’s latest survey data.

But don’t read too much into that right now. This race is about to seem a lot more crowded than it has been, which is to say it’s just getting started. 

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com