President Trump has suffered a second disappointment within a span of two weeks in a statewide election that he hoped would be a referendum against impeachment efforts in Washington, D.C. and the national leadership of the Democratic Party.
On Nov. 5, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin narrowly lost his bid for re-election in a state that voted heavily for Trump in 2016, despite strong and active support from the White House. On Nov. 16, it was a Republican challenger that went up in flames in another close contest. Louisiana businessman Eddie Rispone failed in his attempt to unseat Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. The Cajun State also overwhelmingly went for Trump in 2016, yet his enthusiastic backing for Rispone did not win the day. Political analysts have been quick to pounce, seeing the two races as ominous harbingers for Trump and Republicans in 2020.
“In two days, I really need you, but you really need you, to send a message to the corrupt Democrats in Washington,” Trump said at a rally for Rispone on Nov. 14. “They are corrupt. They are crazy, crazy.”
Positioning state elections as national referendums can prove a dangerous approach, as the administration has now learned firsthand twice in 12 days. Local variables come into play that can weigh a candidate down, no matter how fervent the endorsement from the Oval Office. In the wake of Bevin’s defeat, the White House scrambled to point out that the incumbent was not a well-liked governor, with much of that unpopularity to be found within his own party’s ranks.
“The President just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale stated after Bevin lost by a mere 5,000 votes. A similar tack must now be taken in Louisiana. With 100% of precincts reporting, Edwards defeated Rispone 51- 48%.
“This loss has nothing to do with President Trump. He wasn’t on the ballot,” Lionel Rainey, a Louisiana-based GOP consultant, told Politico. “It’s up to the candidate to convince the majority of voters to vote for him. Rispone’s campaign failed to do that.”
Not Running Against Trump
Edwards ran as a moderate Democrat able to work with conservatives in Louisiana and who could appeal to pro-life voters. In May, he signed a bill banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, spurring outrage from progressives in his party. He diligently ran a well-disciplined campaign focused on state issues rather than targeting Trump.
Such a record points out the difficulty in making a gubernatorial election a litmus test on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or any other Dem with a national profile. Edwards was able to avoid angering Trump backers in Louisiana while painting Rispone as an ineffectual candidate who needed to cling to a popular president instead of standing tall on his own.
“If he had a message that resonated with Louisiana voters, that was about Louisiana, he wouldn’t need to try to nationalize the race,” Edwards said of Rispone days before the election, The New York Times reports. “He’s an uninspiring candidate who doesn’t know very much about how state government works.”
Kentucky and Louisiana will now both have Democrat governors in 2020. Despite this fact, the two states are projected to easily go red once again in next year’s presidential election. What all this means for Trump’s political clout moving forward will now be a subject of debate. The White House has opened itself up to this. That is the danger when a president dives into state elections.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.