As Gomer Pile insightfully said: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise. There were a number of them on election night in the Bayou State. Governor John Bel Edwards’ quest for a first primary victory fell flat as several factors in the final days of the campaign caused his poll numbers to plummet. Now voters can look forward to a nasty runoff, with the airwaves filled with a boatload of negative TV and radio spots.
Turnout for this first primary election was a little better than average, but the tremendous turnout that was predicted never materialized. Some 45% of registered voters went to the polls, or a total of 1.34 million people turning out. Remember that only half of those folks who are eligible to vote have not registered. That means that 23% of the population is actually picking the leaders for the next four years.
What happened to predictions that Gov. Edwards would win a first primary victory? Those prognosticators made predictions based on polls taken 10 days out from election day. But then two things happened. The Republican Governors Association blitzed televisions sets statewide with a negative spot charging Gov. Edwards with ignoring sexual harassment accusations against a top aide in his office.
The Governor’s response was weak, with a handful of women on TV saying how supportive he was on women’s issues. But the charges of ignoring the sexual harassment claims were never strongly addressed. In the new world of #MeToo, John Bel’s judgement was seriously questioned by many undecided voters.
Then there was the Trump factor. The President initially stayed out of the race, but in the final days he came to Lake Charles, his son spoke to a large rally in Lafayette, and he regularly tweeted that Gov. Edwards was “a Nancy Pelosi/Chuck Schumer Democrat, who does nothing but stymie all of the things we are doing to Make America Great Again. Don’t be fooled, John Bel Edwards will NEVER be for us.” Pretty heavy attack against the Governor who the President has called his “favorite democrat.”
When the election dust settled, the Governor was forced into a runoff with republican businessman Eddie Rispone, John Bel received only 46% of the vote. A third candidate, Congressman Ralph Abraham, immediately pledged full support to Rispone, and the President promised to actively campaign for him in the November 9th runoff. So John Bel Edwards, the only democratic southern governor, looks ahead to the fight of his political life.
In the first primary, Edwards praised his own past performance, and Rispone spent millions of dollars attacking the Governor’s record. Wouldn’t it be refreshing in the runoff if the candidates spent time talking about the state’s future?
The other highly contested statewide race was for commissioner of insurance. Many political observers felt that challenger Tim Temple had incumbent commissioner Jim Donelon on the ropes. Donelon had raised most of his campaign money from insurance interests, including taking $20,000 from an insurance executive who was charged with bribing an insurance commissioner.
Donelon’s TV commercials lobbed a number of erroneous charges against Temple, while the challenger tried to stay on the high road. Voters will complain they don’t like campaign mud being thrown. But pollsters will say that negative campaigning works. To heck with the serious issues facing the state. Just spend your campaign cash beating up on your opponent.
Temple also erred in playing up his insurance background. Ouachita Citizen publisher Sam Hanna perceptively observed that the race “was just one insurance guy against another insurance guy.” Many policyholders wanted a commissioner who was looking out for them, not the insurance companies. Donelon will be past 80 in the next statewide election, so Temple, who has built up strong name recognition, will be a solid favorite to win the office in 2023.
Both the Democratic and Republican Governor’s Associations will pour several million dollars in to their respective gubernatorial campaigns. This will be the most expensive statewide election in the state’s history. And get ready voters. There will certainly be a lot of political mud in the air over the next few weeks.
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.