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Louisiana Voters Head to Polls         11/16 09:16

   BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- In a race that has become a nail-biter, Louisiana 
Gov. John Bel Edwards battled Saturday to defy the partisan odds in the ruby 
red South and win re-election to a seat that President Donald Trump desperately 
wants returned to Republicans.

   Trump has made the runoff election between the Deep South's only Democratic 
governor and GOP political donor and businessman Eddie Rispone a test of his 
own popularity and political prowess heading into the 2020 presidential race.

   The president particularly wants to capture Louisiana's governorship for the 
GOP after Democrats ousted a Republican incumbent in Kentucky despite Trump's 
intervention for the GOP. Trump made three trips to Louisiana to rally against 
Edwards.

   But in targeting Louisiana's moderate Democratic incumbent, Trump is trying 
to replace a governor who still maintains positive approval ratings and who has 
managed to keep the competition far tighter than Republicans want.

   Polls in Louisiana close at 8 p.m. 

   Rispone was not among the top-tier candidates GOP leaders hoped would 
challenge Edwards. The 70-year-old owner of a Baton Rouge industrial 
contracting company had never run for office and had little name recognition. 
He hitched his entire candidacy to Trump, introducing himself in ads that 
focused on support for the president.

   "If Eddie Rispone pulls this off, Trump will be an extraordinarily important 
factor," said Pearson Cross, a political science professor and associate dean 
at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "Without Donald Trump weighing in 
heavily in this race, I'm not sure that this race would be this close."

   Both parties spent millions on attack ads and get-out-the-vote work, on top 
of at least $36 million spent by candidates. Republicans sought to prove that 
Edwards' longshot victory in 2015 was a fluke, against a flawed GOP opponent 
hobbled by a prostitution scandal. Democrats wanted to show they could win 
conservative states with the right candidates.

   Trump and Rispone tried to nationalize the election in a state the president 
won by 20 percentage points. But the 53-year-old Edwards, a former state 
lawmaker from rural Tangipahoa Parish, isn't exactly a national Democrat.

   The West Point graduate and former Army Ranger opposes gun restrictions, 
signed one of the nation's strictest abortion bans and talks of working well 
with Trump. He dismissed the president's support for Rispone as Washington 
partisanship.

   "They talk about I'm some sort of a radical liberal. The people of Louisiana 
know better than that. I am squarely in the middle of the political spectrum," 
Edwards said. "That hasn't changed, and that's the way we've been governing."

   The Democrat highlighted his bipartisan work with the majority-GOP state 
Legislature to end years of budget crises, pass the first K-12 statewide 
teacher raise in a decade and overhaul criminal sentencing laws.

   While Edwards focused on state-specific issues, his supporters and the 
Democratic Party used Trump's backing of Rispone to bolster efforts to get 
black voters and anti-Trump voters to the polls.

   The president's repeated visits appeared to drive turnout, for both 
candidates. 

   Republican Gail Giovingo, 53, a restaurant manager, chose Rispone when she 
cast her ballot in Jefferson Parish.

   "I'm just looking for a change," she said. She said Trump's attention to 
Louisiana "does make me want to vote, more eager."

   University employee Troy Taliancich, 41, a registered independent from New 
Orleans, picked Edwards.

   "It's a response to the national situation," Taliancich said. He focused on 
Trump, lamenting "the breakdown of political norms and civil conversation."

   Rispone says he's like Trump, calling himself a "conservative outsider" 
whose business acumen will help solve Louisiana's problems. He offered few 
specifics about his agenda. He promised tax cuts, without saying where he'd 
shrink spending, and he pledged a constitutional convention, without detailing 
what he wanted to rewrite.

   "We want Louisiana to be No. 1 in the South when it comes to jobs and 
opportunity. We have to do something different," Rispone said. "We can do for 
Louisiana what President Trump has done for the nation."

   Rispone poured more than $12 million of his own money into the race. 

   He struck at Edwards for tax hikes used to balance Louisiana's budget, 
saying they were driving people and companies from the state and stagnating the 
economy. Rispone disparaged Edwards as a "trial lawyer," suggesting he's 
anti-business.

   Edwards hit Rispone for his support of unpopular former Gov. Bobby Jindal, 
saying Rispone would return Louisiana to policies that boosted state deficits. 
Edwards said Rispone's proposal to freeze enrollment in the state's Medicaid 
expansion program would force hundreds of thousands off health coverage.


(KR)

 
 
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