- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2019

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ backers took to the state’s airwaves this week with new ads blasting one of his Republican challengers as a “phony,” as the governor’s race kicked into high gear early.

Usually candidates wait until Labor Day to hit full campaign mode, but Gumbo PAC, a group of trial lawyers is running the new ad backing Mr. Edwards, the Democratic incumbent, and attacking Eddie Rispone, a Republican businessman from Baton Rouge who is making his political debut and has self-financed his campaign with a $10 million personal loan.

The ad bring up various lawsuits filed over the years against Mr. Rispone, whose own ad buys in recent weeks depict him as a creator of thousands of jobs in the private sector and a stout supporter of President Trump.

The Rispone campaign called the ad “sloppy and ineffective,” pointing out that a previous version of the ad was pulled from the air. Rispone spokesman Anthony Ramirez said television stations deemed it demonstrably false for misrepresenting source materials and presenting allegations as facts.

Meanwhile Rep. Ralph Abraham, another Republican in the race, released a 30-second ad Thursday that lays out his platform in plain language, complaining that taxes and Louisiana’s notorious car insurance premiums are too high and bluntly declaring “President Trump is doing a great job.”

Mr. Abraham also touched on crowd-pleasing conservative social issues: “Life begins at conception,” he says. “And, as a doctor, I can assure you there are only two genders.”

Louisiana’s jungle primary system means voters will go to the polls in October to pick the top two candidates, no matter what the party, then hold a runoff between them in November.

Mr. Edwards, seeking a second term, is close to a lock to make the runoff, with Mr. Rispone and Mr. Abraham the chief GOP alternatives.

Mr. Abraham has found himself facing accusations that he failed to fulfill a pledge to donate his $174,000 congressional salary each year to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and The Independent Fund, a charity that assists badly wounded veterans and his headquartered in North Carolina.

He made the pledge in 2014, when he first ran for the House, when his campaign said “it should be an honor and a privilege to serve your country and NOT a paid position. YOU should not pay a penny for representation.”

For the two years of his first term, Mr. Abraham did donate his salary, his campaign says. But it stopped after that.

He didn’t publicly repeat the pledge during his 2016 campaign, but his campaign website still carried the original promise.

The Edwards campaign says he broke his word.

“Ralph Abraham promised the people of Louisiana in 2014 and 2016 that he’d donate his congressional salary to St. Jude’s, but was secretly keeping it,” campaign spokesman Eric Holl told The Washington Times. “Despite claims he donated some of his salary, he’s never actually provided any proof. It’s just one of his broken promises.”

The Abraham campaign contends he lived up to the spirit of the original promise, but said a congressional rule forbidding lawmakers from making a profit off their medical practice while serving in Congress made the situation untenable.

The campaign said Mr. Abraham is still a generous donor to charities. It provided The Washington Times with a Facebook post from January by Brian Allen, a longtime home builder with St. Jude Dream Home that raffles his houses for the hospital.

“We rely on donations from the community with a goal to cover all our costs - a goal we finally hit for the first time in 2016 thanks to Ralph Abraham’s generosity,” Mr. Allen wrote. “This was a big deal for us because we’d never met that goal before. I’ve worked with Ralph for years. He has donated tens of thousands of dollars to St. Jude.”

Calls and emails to St. Jude public affairs staff were not immediately answered Thursday.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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