WASHINGTON — Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is projected to narrowly win a second term as Louisiana governor, beating Republican challenger Eddie Rispone by 1.4 percentage points and delivering another blow in off-cycle elections to President Donald Trump.
Edwards was up by over 19,000 votes with 96% of precincts reporting Saturday night, according to the Associated Press.
Edwards' victory in a state that Trump carried in 2016 by nearly 20 percentage points highlights the limitations of nationalizing local races. Rispone, a wealthy businessman and long-time Republican donor, tied himself to Trump. He often railed against illegal immigrants on the campaign trail and portrayed Edwards as a "liberal, socialist-leaning governor."
But Edwards, a conservative Democrat, managed to remain fairly popular by frequently breaking with national Democrats. He signed into law one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country, favored gun rights, and touted his willingness to work with Republicans, including Trump.
Louisiana is the second reliably red state that voted for Trump to elect a Democrat as governor in the past month. Kentucky elected Attorney General Andy Beshear over GOP incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin, despite Trump's campaign efforts in the state.
Edwards was a top target for the GOP as the Republican National Committee spent $2 million to defeat him and Trump visited the state three times in five weeks to support Rispone.
Before the polls closed Saturday, Trump tweeted multiple times encouraging voters to support Rispone.
Edwards narrowly missed the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright win in the October jungle primary, in which every candidate runs against each other on the same ballot regardless of party. He earned 46 percent of the vote, Rispone 27 percent and Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., roughly 23 percent.
Although Abraham endorsed and campaigned for Rispone in the runoff, it was not enough to push the Republican over the finish line.
Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, was elected in 2015 in what many viewed as a fluke election due to a flawed Republican opponent mired in a prostitution scandal.