Making his second visit in two weeks to heavily Republican north Louisiana, Trump was hoping to break open a deadlocked race between Rispone and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a moderate Democrat who has carefully avoided criticizing the president in a state where he remains fairly popular.
With House Democrats beginning public hearings as part of their impeachment proceedings over Trump’s conduct with Ukraine, Republicans are eager to show that his core supporters remain loyal and that he can deliver a victory in the conservative Deep South.
And Trump is under more pressure to deliver after he appeared on the day before Election Day this month in Kentucky but failed to lift the unpopular incumbent, Gov. Matt Bevin, to victory. Bevin conceded defeat Thursday as a recanvass of the state’s votes made clear that Democrat Andy Beshear won.
Trump’s task here is not much easier. Edwards, who supports gun rights and opposes abortion rights, is relatively popular, and Rispone, a business executive and donor, is a first-time candidate who is not well known in the state.
But with two appearances in the closing weeks of the race, the president has put his political capital on the line for Rispone as part of an effort to rebuff any speculation about his declining clout.
And the Republican nominee has done his part to increase the stakes for the White House, linking himself to Trump at every turn. Rispone began the race with an ad depicting the “Trump” bumper sticker he placed on his pickup truck. He has also echoed the president’s outsider appeals and pet issue, arguing that a state government needs a businessman while assailing Edwards over immigration.
The governor, while refusing to take on Trump, has portrayed Rispone as one who is grasping the president’s coattails and attempting to “nationalize this race.”
“He cannot win this race based on Louisiana issues because he hasn’t demonstrated any knowledge about how state government works,” Edwards told supporters in nearby Shreveport on Thursday afternoon. “He doesn’t have any vision for the state of Louisiana.”
A West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, Edwards has expanded Medicaid and has raised teachers’ pay and also some taxes in an effort to balance the state’s budget.
This is the president’s third visit to the state in just over a month. He appeared last month in Lake Charles as part of an effort to boost Republican turnout in Louisiana’s all-party primary. Rispone narrowly edged out Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican, to claim a spot in the runoff against Edwards, and not all the wounds have healed from the Rispone-Abraham contest. That is why the president has returned to the same part of the state — it is Abraham’s home base — in an effort to rally Republicans.
The Louisiana race is the last contest of the off-year 2019 election cycle. While Republicans retained the governorship in Mississippi, where Trump appeared on behalf of Gov.-elect Tate Reeves, Republicans lost the Kentucky race and the Virginia legislature after a surge of support for Democrats in cities and suburbs.
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