Louisiana held its own Iowa Straw Poll for Republicans

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Hundreds of people grabbed plates of jambalaya and black-eyed peas, some with a beer. They took seats for the stump speeches. And then, they selected their favored GOP candidate for governor on the paper ballot and slapped on an "I Voted" sticker.

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Welcome to the Iowa Straw Poll, Louisiana-style.

And that's pronounced "I-oh-way," meaning the tiny town in southwest Louisiana where the event is being held, not "I-oh-wah" as in the nation's Midwestern state.

Southwestern Louisiana Republicans hosted the state's first-ever gubernatorial straw poll Saturday afternoon, hoping to help determine a clear front-runner in the GOP effort to keep John Bel Edwards from winning a second term as the Deep South's only Democratic governor.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham was the overwhelming winner among the few hundred people who gathered in the town of Iowa's local Knights of Columbus Hall. The doctor and third-term congressman from northeast Louisiana got 180 votes, besting his fellow GOP challenger, Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman making his first bid for elected office after years as a hefty political donor.

Rispone took in 94 votes.

Both GOP contenders challenging Edwards on the Oct. 12 ballot delivered remarks and took questions at the $25-a-plate event hosted by the Calcasieu Republican Parish Executive Committee and the Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana.

"Hopefully, whoever comes out victorious will have momentum behind them in the dog days of summer, and we can start to coalesce behind a candidate," said Jeremy Stine, an executive committee member who helped organize the straw poll event.

Abraham described the event in a statement as a "major test of our message and campaign organization. We'll take the momentum from today and keep pushing forward to October."

Rispone's campaign didn't directly respond to the straw poll results, insisting Saturday that "support is growing every day."

"We are confident that on Election Day Louisianans will vote for the Republican candidate with serious business skills," Rispone spokesman Anthony Ramirez said in a statement.

Without a closed primary system, Louisiana's candidates for office run against each other on the same primary ballot, regardless of party. Republicans worry that two well-financed candidates competing for governor could split the party's focus, strike at each other, and give Edwards an edge for reelection.

Republicans blame splintered attention and attacks among their own candidates for helping to elect Edwards four years ago. In that 2015 race, GOP candidates Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne focused their criticism on Republican rival David Vitter instead of Edwards in the primary, and Vitter limped into the runoff against Edwards badly wounded from the hits.

Stine said organizers of Louisiana's Iowa Straw Poll think Republicans benefit with support rallied behind one major GOP candidate for governor, and they see their region as indicative of the state.

"I feel like it's a fairly good representation of the folks that will be voting, come October," Stine said.

Anyone, no matter the party affiliation, could buy a ticket and cast a ballot, though mainly Republicans were expected to show up. The only requirement, Stine said, was the voters had to be at least 18 years old, Louisiana's legal voting age.

Attendees also chose their favored contenders for state House and Senate seats, after hearing from those candidates.


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