“By and large, I think Edwards’ record is an enormous help, and I think it’s why he’s doing as well as he is for a Democratic governor in a deep red state,” said Pearson Cross, associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. “His record with regard to getting Louisiana out of endless budget crises, his record in terms of criminal justice reform, giving teachers their first pay raise in years, increasing funding for early childhood education—he can point to these wins and say, ‘Look, I’m making life better for people on the ground here, I have a record.’”
Trump has tried to seize that record, specifically on the economy, for himself, but Edwards is not letting go that easily.
Earlier this month, the White House tweeted: “‘The Pelican State’ is booming—boasting its lowest unemployment rate since 2008, bringing back 5,000+ manufacturing jobs, and becoming one of our Nation’s leading states in natural gas exports!”
Edwards tweeted in reply, with only trace levels of sarcasm: “Thank you, I agree. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but we’re much better off than we were four years ago when I took office. And when I’m re-elected, we’ll keep moving our state in the right direction.”
In some respects, Edwards is the only figure in this race who seems determined to frame the race on statewide terms rather than national ones. On top of Trump’s visits (Vice President Pence came before the primary in October), the Republican National Committee this week pumped an extra million dollars into the race. The Louisiana Democratic Party is happy to do what Edwards won’t, running ads on Facebook warning voters: “If Rispone wins, Trump wins.”
Edwards’ strategy throughout the race has been to rebut Trump’s acid attacks with heaping spoonfuls of Southern graciousness, at least where the president is concerned. When he was asked at a recent event what he thought of Trump’s regular forays to the state, he maintained his policy of nonaggression.
“This is the political season, and he is coming here because his party expects him to, he’s doing what’s expected of him, and its a very political trip into Louisiana,” Edwards said. “Obviously, he’s the president, he’s welcome here any time.”
And then just to remind voters how close the working relationship is with the administration, Edwards talked about the nine times he was invited to the White House to meet with Trump on issues like transportation infrastructure, the opioid epidemic and criminal justice reform.
“Edwards has been an elusive target in terms of being someone President Trump can attack,” said John Couvillon, who worked on Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham’s congressional campaigns as a pollster in 2014 and 2016. “He has totally shied away from any kind of mention about President Trump and impeachment, and he has avoided picking any overt fights with the White House.”
That goodwill is quite a bit less evident when Edwards talks about his challenger.