John Bel Edwards must secure 50% of vote in Saturdays poll as Republicans Ralph Abraham and Eddie Rispone lead challengers
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards is fighting to hang on to a rare Democratic bridgehead in the deep south, against a national Republican offensive aimed at forcing him into a run-off after Saturdays election.
Republicans are trying to hold Edwards under the 50% benchmark the regions only Democratic governor needs to win outright over five other candidates.
On Friday night, Donald Trump made a last-minute appeal to Louisiana voters, with a rally in Lake Charles.
On Saturday morning, the president referred to Louisiana State Universitys evening football game against the University of Florida when he tweeted: Louisiana, get out and vote REPUBLICAN before going to the big game today.
The Tigers and the Gators kick off at 8pm, when polls are scheduled to close. On Saturday morning, Edwards was in New Orleans at the scene of a partial building collapse. At least one person was killed when a large portion of the Hard Rock Hotel, which is under construction in downtown New Orleans, came down.
Louisianas only Democratic statewide elected official faces two main GOP challengers, US representative Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, who Trump said on Friday were both great. Three lesser-known contenders could also tip the balance and push Edwards into a run-off on 16 November.
Six Republican statewide officials are also on the ballot and voters will decide four proposed constitutional changes.
Republicans are seeking to prove that Edwards victory in 2015 was a fluke, aided by a flawed GOP opponent, David Vitter, who was hobbled by a prostitution scandal and attacks from fellow Republicans.
Democrats want an Edwards win to show they can compete even in a ruby red state that Trump won by 20 points in 2016.
The 53-year-old West Point graduate and former army ranger opposes abortion and gun restrictions, talks of working well with the Trump administration and calls the US House Democrats impeachment inquiry a distraction to governing. He signed one of the nations strictest abortion bans.
But Edwards has also contrasted three recent years of budget surpluses with the deficit-riddled terms of his predecessor, the Republican Bobby Jindal. Edwards and the majority-GOP state legislature passed a tax deal that stabilized state finances and allowed for new investments in public colleges and the first teacher raise in a decade.
When I took office, the state of Louisiana had the largest budget deficit in our history, Edwards said. We did the hard, bipartisan work necessary to right the ship, to strengthen our economy.
Edwards expanded Medicaid, adding nearly a half-million to government-financed healthcare and lowering the uninsured rate below the national average. A bipartisan criminal sentencing law rewrite ended Louisianas status as the nations top jailer.
The GOP contenders say the Medicaid expansion was rife with abuse, wasting millions of dollars. They sought to nationalize the race, tying Edwards to national Democratic leaders.
On Saturday, Trump claimed a runoff would be a tremendous win, and said without offering evidence it would mean lower taxes and car insurance, and better protection of your 2nd Amendment [gun rights].
Abraham and Rispone have bickered over which one has tighter ties to Trump.
Abraham, 65, a third-term congressman from rural north-east Louisiana, touted his background as a doctor. He pledged tax cuts while promising new spending on early childhood education, roads and public safety. He did not explain how he would balance the budget with less revenue.
Rispone, 70, founder of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, is a longtime GOP donor. He largely self-financed, pouring $11m into the race, and presented himself in the mold of Trump, describing himself as a conservative outsider who would upend the traditional political system of Baton Rouge.
We need a CEO, someone with serious business experience, Rispone told supporters. Both sides of the aisle have failed you. Its time to do something different.