BATON ROUGE, La. — U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, the leading Republican candidate for Louisiana governor, is pledging to keep his campaign ire focused on Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards, after another GOP contender in the race unleashed an attack ad against Abraham.
Businessman Eddie Rispone's decision to launch a TV ad Tuesday slamming Abraham has drawn backlash from some Republicans who call it the wrong strategy to defeat Edwards. They worry about repeating the GOP infighting of the 2015 governor's race that helped Edwards become the Deep South's only Democratic governor.
"There has been an unfortunate and VERY ILL-ADVISED turn in the campaign for Louisiana Governor. I have known Eddie Rispone longer than I have known Ralph Abraham and I like and respect him very much, but this was and continues to be a huge mistake," Shreveport Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh said in a Facebook post announcing he'll support Abraham.
Abraham released a statement calling the ad full of "baseless personal attacks" and suggesting he wouldn't respond with an attack ad of his own.
"This is the literal playbook that allowed John Bel to be elected four years ago," the third-term congressman from northeast Louisiana said. He added: "We will continue to run a race aimed solely at John Bel, based on ideas and principles that are best for Louisiana."
Louisiana conservative talk radio host Moon Griffon endorsed Abraham on Tuesday, saying Rispone needs to pull his attack ad because it will only help Edwards in the race. But Rispone campaign spokesman Anthony Ramirez said the ad will stay on the air.
Rispone, owner of an industrial contracting company from Baton Rouge, is running third in polls for the Oct. 12 primary behind second-place Abraham, despite pouring millions of his own money into the race and spending five times as much as Abraham. He's put more than $11 million of his own cash into his campaign account and used several million of it so far.
Republican party leaders had tried to keep their two main candidates from intraparty battles in the governor's race, with state GOP Chairman Louis Gurvich months ago calling on the gubernatorial candidates to stay focused on defeating Edwards.
But Rispone released a 30-second spot Tuesday that criticizes Abraham for reneging on a promise to donate his congressional salary to charity, for missing congressional votes while he campaigns for governor and for suggesting in 2016 that Donald Trump should consider stepping aside from the GOP presidential nomination.
At the same time, the Rispone campaign also launched its first TV attack against Edwards, panning criminal sentencing law changes the governor and state lawmakers passed in 2017. The Democratic incumbent responded with his own television spot, featuring law enforcement officials defending the criminal justice overhaul and refuting the criticism as false.
Ramirez said the two ads will help voters draw distinctions among the candidates in the final weeks before the primary. He noted that a super PAC supporting Abraham has released advertising criticizing Rispone, and he said Abraham has taken swipes at Rispone during campaign forums.
"Eddie is not backing down," Ramirez said in a statement Tuesday. "Republican voters want a fighter, someone who will take on the status quo, insiders and politicians. That's why Louisianians and Republicans across the country voted for Donald Trump."
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