(Reuters) – Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a conservative Democrat seeking a second term, faces an election run-off on Saturday against Eddie Rispone, a Republican who has tightly aligned himself with President Donald Trump.
Edwards, an observant Roman Catholic who opposes abortion, holds a slight lead in recent polls over Rispone, a construction entrepreneur described by Trump as “pro-family, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and 100 percent pro-America.”
The outcome will provide the latest barometer on the value of Trump’s endorsement for Republican candidates ahead the 2020 elections.
Other recent elections have offered mixed readings. In Kentucky’s gubernatorial election, Democratic challenger Andy Beshear defeated Republican Governor Matt Bevin despite the president’s full-throated endorsement. But in Mississippi earlier this month, Republicans easily kept their control of the statehouse thanks in part to Trump’s support.
Edwards, the Deep South’s only Democratic governor, has campaigned on a strengthening economy. Louisiana has enjoyed a net increase of 21,000 jobs under his watch, while the unemployment rate dropped from 6% to 4%.
“We’re in the right direction. There’s no doubt about it. We have made a lot of progress over the last four years,” Edwards said during a campaign event in Shreveport on Thursday.
Rispone has depicted himself as a political outsider with business acumen who is setting his sights on rewriting the state constitution in order to reform the state’s tax code.
“We are a red state. We are going to work with the conservatives and work with this president to make Louisiana number one in the South when it comes to jobs and opportunity,” he said as Trump stood behind him at a rally on Thursday in Bossier City.
The rally marked the president’s third visit to the state to support Rispone. Trump told a stadium filled with supporters that they needed to vote on Saturday, because the “eyes of history” were on them.
“If you want to defend your values, your jobs and your freedom, then you need to replace radical liberal John Bel Edwards with a true Louisiana patriot, Eddie Rispone,” Trump said.
Edwards topped Rispone by a large margin in a six-candidate primary last month but failed to secure the 50 percent needed to win a second term outright.
Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Frank McGurty and Cynthia Osterman