- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2019

A new, privately commissioned poll in Louisiana shows Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone rising to second place behind incumbent Democractic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The surge by Mr. Rispone, a Republican, puts him ahead of Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham, who had occupied the second place slot throughout the summer. The shift also created some unease within the state GOP.

The JMC Enterprises poll was commissioned by the Louisiana Association of Health Plans, and conducted between Sept. 19-21st, after the first debate between the three candidates occurred on LSU´s campus last week and after Mr. Risone launched a state-wide attack advertising campaign against Mr. Abraham.

Prior to those developments, in a Sept. 14-17 poll also run by JMC Enterprises of Louisiana, Mr. Abraham enjoyed an 8-point lead over Mr. Rispone. The Abraham campaign maintains it is extremely unlikely that in a short period of time, followed by a debate reportedly watched by just a sliver of the electorate, that Mr. Rispone would suddenly hold a 3-point edge.

However, John Couvillon, who runs JMC and once did polls for Mr. Abraham´s congressional runs, said the turnaround did not surprise him. Throughout the year, Mr. Abraham has failed to move the needle, hovering between 23 and 24 percent from April to September, and thus was vulnerable, according to Mr. Couvillon.

“What´s happened is the Democrats have come home,” Mr. Couvillon told The Washington Times. ¨His figures have gone up with black voters and white Democrats, while almost all of the votes Rispone has siphoned away from Abraham have been from Republicans and white independents.¨

Mr. Rispone, who has bankrolled his campaign with $11.5 million of his own money, has gone on the attack against Mr. Abraham recently, hitting the congressman for missing votes and alleging he has been insufficiently supportive of President Trump.

It is his unwavering support of Mr. Trump and genuine outsider status - this is Mr. Rispone´s first foray into politics - that has formed the backbone of his campaign.

Meanwhile, Mr. Edwards, the lone Democrat occupying a governor’s mansion in the Deep South, sits at 46 percent, still below the 50 percent plus 1 threshhold a candidate must pass to win outright in the Oct. 12 jungle primary, but nevertheless a strong position that he has maintained.

The new poll is the first to come since the three candidates debated last week on the LSU campus, the first of what is scheduled to be three such events.

“Rispone is surging at the right time because he is the only conservative outsider in this race,” said Anthony Ramirez, a spokesman for the Rispone campaign. “The people of Louisiana are sick and tired of liberal, tax and spend, career politicians who will say and do anything to get elected. Eddie will beat John Bel Edwards in the runoff and he will do for Louisiana what President Trump has done for America.”

Neither the Abraham nor Edwards campaigns offered any immediate comment on the poll, which first began to circulate among politicos Sunday evening.

Although Mr. Abraham has said he will continue to focus his fire on the Democratic governor, it is clear at this point Mr. Rispone´s willingness to break party ranks was not a one-time advertising blitz but a sustained tactic.

That leaves some Republicans concerned that, should Mr. Edwards be forced into a runoff, he will face a fractured GOP opposition, a situation not unlike the one that existed in 2015 when Mr. Edwards surprised outsiders by beating Republican Sen. David Vitter in the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Since then, with the U.S. economy roaring, Mr. Edwards has presented himself to voters as a steady, competent hand at the government til who has overseen an increase in the state’s prosperity.

Mr. Abraham in particular has responded that Louisiana’s economic gains lag the rest of the nation because Mr. Edwards has imposed a high sales tax and buddied up with trial lawyers who have gone after the state’s prominent oil and gas industry.

So far, however, those attacks have not budged Mr. Edwards´ approval ratings or poll standings.

The governor also shored up his standing with some independents and moderates by backing the 2nd Amendment during the first debate and backing up his pro-life stance with a vote banning abortions after a heartbeat is detected in the womb.

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

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