The Associated Press declared Edwards the winner just hours after the polls closed, and Rispone conceded.
“How sweet it is!” a delighted Bel Edwards declared to celebrating supporters, according to The Associated Press. “Tonight the people of Louisiana have chosen to chart their own path.”
As for Trump, who campaigned vigorously against him, the governor quipped: “God bless his heart.” It’s a phrase Southerners often use to politely knock someone.
The narrow victory was widely regarded as a referendum on Trump in a deeply red state. It was the second gubernatorial race this month that the president failed to turn for the Republicans. Bel Edwards won 51.3% of the vote to Rispone’s 48.7%, a difference of just over 40,000 votes.
As he conceded, Rispone urged his supporters to give a round of applause for Trump, saying: “That man loves America and he loves Louisiana.”
Trump campaigned hard for Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman. The president urged Louisiana residents in a tweet Saturday to get out and vote for the Republican because he will “get your taxes and auto insurance ... way down.” At one of his three recent campaign rallies in the state, Trump called Bel Edwards a “liberal Democrat who has sold you out.” Bel Edwards, who is actually a conservative Democrat, is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.
Trump has tried to claim credit for Louisiana’s strengthening economy. Ironically, Bel Edwards pointed to the same economy and his role in it during his campaign. He also campaigned on closing a $2 billion budget deficit he inherited from Republican predecessor Bobby Jindal.
Rispone had no political record to run on, and relied on his support for and from Trump to win. Trump won the state by 20 percentage points in 2016. Rispone’s first two election ads featured the president, and included no footage of the candidate, according to The New York Times. When Rispone opened a rally earlier this week, he began by saying he had just spoken to Trump on the phone, eliciting a chant of “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
Bel Edwards was only 2 percentage points ahead in recent polling for the state race. But 52% of respondents in a Morning Consult poll said they approved of the job he is doing.
Early voting Saturday broke a non-presidential election record for the state, and the share of the ballots cast by Black voters climbed since the primary — which both appeared to be good signs for Bel Edwards, noted CNBC. State officials expected a 51% turnout Saturday, compared with just 40% for the last gubernatorial election in 2015, according to the Times.
The GOP flooded the state with millions of dollars in ad money, as well as visits from Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Vice President Mike Pence. Republicans managed to force a runoff after Bel Edwards failed to grab more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary last month. Rispone won 27% of the vote in the primary, but that plus the votes for third-term Republican Congressman Ralph Abraham kept Bel Edwards from winning outright.
Incumbent Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin went down to defeat earlier this month against his Democratic rival Andy Beshear, even though Trump campaigned for Bevin.