Not only is John Bel Edwards the only Democrat who holds a statewide office, but the Louisiana governor is the only Democratic governor of any Southern state. And currently, this rarest of birds is seeking reelection. Edwards was able to defeat an extremely flawed opponent to capture the office, but his bid for a second term is a decidedly different race with a new and more volatile set of dynamics to be negotiated. Though Edwards is a conservative Democrat, his opponents are far to his right and pose real threats to his chances to be reelected in the deep south.
The remarkability of his tenure is significantly overshadowed by the precariousness of his political position. And the unusual conditions that enabled his electability have been transformed into a minefield of political calculations that could not only diminish Edwards viability but boost the likelihood that a conservative Republican wins the race. How Edwards is able to motivate progressive voters while simultaneously leaning into his conservative values is a balancing act that will be Cirque du Soleil worthy.
Facing two conservative Republicans, early on Edwards’ campaign is leaning right with commercials touting his personal military background and his family’s dedication to law and order. And signing the anti-abortion legislation this summer was a major nod to Republican voters. Yet his rivals will claim their allegiance to President Trump and wedge immigration, race, taxes and every other hot button issue to invigorate Louisiana’s conservative electorate.
White Women Voters
Many of the white women voters who either did not vote or even supported Edwards over the sex scandal ridden David Vitter, will have no such inclination in this election. In fact, Ralph Abraham is a stand-up guy and offers none of the Vitter slime that catapulted Edwards in the last election. And Eddie Rispone’s love for all things Trump will attract others. Both are furiously campaigning to capture the white women’s votes. Not only can Edwards expect to lose a large percentage of these voters, but if either of his opponents electrifies the white women base, Edwards ability to win reelection his significantly damaged. Edwards will have no choice but to try to motivate African American women voters. And that’s the tricky part.
African American Women Voters
Edwards received over 95% of the African American women’s vote in the last gubernatorial election. But his current campaign messaging ignores issues that would engage and motivate them to vote. And while older African American women tend to be chronic voters, younger AA women voters are irregular –mainly high-profile election -voters. Yet as Edwards tilts right to attract white voters, he antagonizes the women who helped elect him in the first place.
How Edwards pivots and seeks to attract women of color while simultaneously appeasing conservative white women is the conundrum. Issues that women share – early childhood education and access to affordable healthcare – allow the governor to thread the needle, but other issues that will attract and motivate black women like increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and increasing funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) will create a schism between the voting blocs.
Even though these challengers are lower profile than David Vitter, their threat to Edwards candidacy is more significant. If either Abraham or Rispone catches fire, he could burn down the Edwards campaign, unless Edwards is able to balance disparate factions with a clean message.