(Bloomberg) -- Democrat John Bel Edwards won re-election as governor of Louisiana on Saturday, dealing a blow to President Donald Trump who campaigned aggressively to support challenger Eddie Rispone, a Republican who fashioned his campaign as a referendum on the president.
Edwards won with 51% of the votes, according to a results portal on the Louisiana secretary of state's website, a margin of about 40,000 votes. Turnout was 50.7% against 40.2% in the state's previous election for governor in 2015. It followed an election day in which the president urged Republicans via Twitter to get out and vote.
The Louisiana race provided the latest litmus test of Trump's popularity before the 2020 election in a heavily Republican state that he carried by 20 points in 2016. It was the first statewide election since the House on Wednesday started the public phase of its impeachment inquiry of the president with nationally-televised hearings.
As of mid-afternoon Sunday Trump hadn't responded to the Louisiana results in any of over 30 tweets and retweets for the day.
'Bless His Heart'
Edwards, in a victory speech Saturday night in Baton Rouge, kept his focus on local issues: vowing to raise the state's minimum wage and invest more in early-childhood education. "Tonight, the people of Louisiana have chosen to chart their own path," Edwards said. "As for the president, God bless his heart."
The win came less than two weeks after Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, a staunchly pro-Trump Republican, lost to Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear. That was despite a last-minute push by Trump that included a rally the day before that election, where he warned the crowd that Bevin's defeat would send "a really bad message" and adding "you can't let that happen to me."
In Virginia, Democrats took both houses of the legislature from Republicans, gaining full control of state government for the first time in 26 years. In the aftermath of those setbacks, Trump pointed to other Republican wins in Kentucky and the Mississippi gubernatorial race where Tate Reeves defeated Democrat Jim Hood.
Trump spent a large amount of political capital on the race in an attempt to unseat the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. The president held a rally alongside Rispone on Nov. 9 in Monroe, Louisiana, and another event in Bossier City on Thursday. In between those trips, Trump traveled to Alabama to attend the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University football game. Vice President Mike Pence also campaigned.
On Saturday, the president sent multiple tweets during the morning and afternoon that urged support for Rispone, saying "He will be a great governor!" He also included links on his website to help state residents find their polling places.
In Bossier City, Trump urged the audience to vote for Rispone to send a message to Democrats in Washington. He lobbed familiar attacks on the media and political opponents, including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and railed against the impeachment inquiry.
"You can send a tremendous message back to Washington because Eddie's running against the failed far-left," referring to Edwards, 53, who he said would join the impeachment push from Louisiana if he was re-elected.
Rispone, 70, largely campaigned on his similarities to and support for the president, pointing out that he also built his wealth in construction.
"Rispone has run such a Trump-specific campaign. It's been a campaign fairly free of policy proposals and focused mostly on his allegiance to Donald Trump and banking on the fact that Louisiana is a red state," Pearson Cross, political science professor at University of Louisiana in Lafayette, said in a telephone interview.
Cross said that Trump's presence in the election also helped to ignite the Democratic base in the state, particularly among black voters.
While Trump's rhetoric and Rispone's alignment with the president may appeal to Trump's base in the state, it could also have mobilized Democratic-leaning voters who may have sat out previous elections.
Trump's approach "may work with some voters who are independents, Republicans or even conservative white democratic voters. It's definitely not working with black voters," Cross said.
"As we look at the impeachment hearings that just started Wednesday, and as you might imagine, there's an impeachment effect. But, what's the impeachment effect? Well I think essentially it's made everybody mad," Cross said.
Edwards is a more moderate Democrat who opposes abortion and supports gun rights, making him palatable to red-state voters, Cross said. That makes it difficult to draw any conclusions about Trump's support in the state.
"You would say well he really is a rarity. He's a fairly popular Democrat in a Republican state. Louisiana's still going to elect every other statewide position as Republican. It hasn't changed any of the fundamentals," Cross said.
During a panel discussion on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, former New Jersey GOP Governor Chris Christie pointed out that Edwards was "not a crazy liberal" and that "most incumbent governors get re-elected if they don't do something to disqualify themselves."
In response, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat who was President Barack Obama's first chief of staff, said Trump "put his capital down; he lost it."
(A previous version corrected the reference to the House impeachment inquiry.)
(Updates with Edwards, Christie, Emanuel from fifth paragraph.)
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