FILE - LA John Bel Edwards, Eddie Rispone

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (left) and businessman Eddie Rispone

Gov. John Bel Edwards has taken the lead over challenger Eddie Rispone with 96 percent of precincts reporting Saturday night, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State's office.

With 3,776 of 3,934 precincts reporting, Edwards had a 19,000 vote advantage.

Edwards, a Democratic governor in a red state, hopes to hold off Republican Rispone, a first-time candidate for office.

Pre-election surveys showed a race coming down to the wire, and partisans now can only hope they got enough of their side to turn out and push their candidate over the finish line first.

Louisiana does not hold party primaries. In the open primary held Oct. 12, when there were six candidates for governor, Edwards got a little less than 47 percent of the vote, falling short of the majority he needed to win outright in the first round. Rispone got about 27 percent, edging out Congressman (and fellow Republican) Ralph Abraham for second place and a spot in Saturday’s runoff.

If Republicans end up with the same proportion of votes Saturday as they got in the primary, Rispone wins. But the Democratic base made a better showing in the early vote runoff totals than before the primary, which encouraged Edwards’ supporters.

Edwards currently is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, though Democrat Andy Beshear just won a close election and will be Kentucky’s next chief executive. Hoping to avoid another loss for the GOP, President Donald Trump has held three get-out-the-vote rallies in Louisiana.

Edwards is an attorney and former Army Ranger. Rispone is the co-founder of an industrial engineering, construction and maintenance company.

Republicans increased their majority in the Louisiana Legislature in the primary, and they have a chance to win a two-thirds supermajority in the runoff, which could allow the party to wield considerable power even if they don’t capture the governor’s office. Voting as a block, a supermajority can override vetoes, raise taxes and fees, and put a potential state constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The only statewide office on Saturday’s ballot other than governor is Secretary of State, who oversees elections. Republican incumbent Kyle Ardoin is expected to hold off Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup in a rematch of the special election Ardoin won last year.

Voters in a Louisiana Supreme Court district outside New Orleans had a choice between Will Crain and Hans Liljeberg, both Republican state appeals court judges, for a spot on the state’s highest court.

Voters in Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 6 were choosing between Ronnie Morris and Gregory Spiers, both Republicans, for the last undecided elected spot on the board that oversees K-12 education.

Local candidate races were on the ballot in 61 of the state’s 64 parishes and local propositions were up in 44 parishes, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.