BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham jumped into the Louisiana governor’s race Thursday, becoming the second Republican to announce he’ll challenge Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards in the 2019 election and ensuring a fractured GOP field.
The congressman’s decision comes a month after he won re-election to a third term in the U.S. House and only days after U.S. Sen. John Kennedy declared he wouldn’t run against Edwards. Abraham hopes his quick decision upon Kennedy’s exit will keep other possible Republican contenders away from the race and rally GOP support for him.
“I’m running for governor, and I intend to win,” Abraham said in a brief statement announcing that he’ll have an official campaign launch early next year.
A family medicine doctor from rural northeast Louisiana, Abraham joins wealthy Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone as the Republican contenders vying to keep Edwards from a second term. Rispone, a first-time office-seeker, has said he’s willing to spend $5 million of his own cash on the race, while Abraham will have to rely more heavily on donors for his campaign.
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Abraham, 64, had long been eyeing the governor’s race but faced difficult odds to gain traction if Kennedy, a prominent and popular Republican politician, had decided to run for the job. Abraham remains little-known across much of the state, despite his four years in Congress.
The conservative lawmaker from Richland Parish represents the largely rural 5th District, which contains all or part of 24 parishes across northeast and central Louisiana.
Edwards questioned how Abraham could represent his U.S. House district while making a gubernatorial bid, noting that on Monday, Abraham issued a statement talking about the many issues still facing him in Congress.
“None of those issues have been resolved. Now, just a few days later, he’s abandoning those responsibilities along with the congressional office he was re-elected to exactly one month ago,” Edwards said in a statement. “For the sake of the people of Louisiana, it is my hope that he seriously considers whether or not he is capable of running for governor while fulfilling his duties in Washington.”
Rispone didn’t comment Thursday on Abraham’s campaign announcement.
Republican leaders are trying to rally around one major candidate ahead of the October election, believing that’s the best way to unseat the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. But Republicans appear to disagree on which candidate has the strongest shot with Kennedy out of the race. Top GOP politicians in Louisiana, such as U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and Attorney General Jeff Landry, have decided against making a gubernatorial bid.
Abraham won his congressional seat in 2014, ousting Republican then-incumbent Vance McAllister, who couldn’t survive a cheating scandal when video surfaced showing him kissing a woman who wasn’t his wife. Abraham was one of nine candidates in the race and reached the win in a bit of a surprise, surpassing other Republicans expected to outperform him. He cruised to a re-election victory in November, easily defeating three opponents without needing a runoff.
In Congress, Abraham has been a reliable Republican vote, supporting the policies of President Donald Trump and seeking to repeal former President Barack Obama’s federal health overhaul. Raised on a farm, Abraham has been an outspoken voice for farmers from his position on the Agriculture Committee.
His background is varied. Abraham first became a veterinarian, working in the job for 10 years before changing course and going to medical school. He’s also a pilot, a former member of the Army National Guard who still flies for the Coast Guard Auxiliary and for the Civil Air Patrol.
Abraham’s public interest in politics seems to have started in 2007, when he started donating to candidates and appeared in a campaign ad for former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte .