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First governor's race poll warning to Edwards

The first significant independent poll has surfaced regarding the 2019 governor’s contest, and it brings bad news to incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.

For some months, Edwards has kept calm over challenges to his reelection, reassured by some good fundraising numbers (some $5 million in the bank at the end of 2017, plus an allied political action committee that separately has around $270,000 available) and approval numbers a bit above 50 percent. However, as elections contrast more than a single candidate, suspicions lingered that the popularity figure overestimated support at present in the voting booth.

A survey by Mason Dixon Polling and Research confirms this. The firm put up three hypothetical Republican candidates, two of them well-known, against Edwards. Facing Sen. John Kennedy, Edwards at 45 percent leads him by a single point; matched against Rep. Steve Scalise, the U.S. House of Representatives’ third-ranked official, he has a three-point advantage at 46 percent; and enjoys 51 percent support to only 28 percent for Rep. Ralph Abraham, who not many would know from outside the northern part of the state.

Such numbers already have Edwards in trouble. An incumbent who cannot pull 50 percent in hypothetical matchups has got a lot of work ahead; when it dips to 45 percent, reelection chances become pretty shaky, as most respondents who don’t state a preference either won’t vote or will for the opponent.

Worse for him, as through the spring Legislature discusses the budget, including tax measures that one or more special sessions may issue forth, voters will receive constant reminders about how Edwards raised taxes and wants to keep these if not send them higher still, while state government continues to spend state-sourced dollars at greater than the rate of inflation. Having at least one opponent begin to hammer this home now and next year at this time only will erode his numbers further, regardless of how much money he spends to spin things differently.

Compounding Edwards’ difficulties, he seems even less likely to receive undecided votes than the typical incumbent. Regarding the well-known possible opponents, he barely draws a quarter of the white vote against them, yet among the undecided for Scalise about half as many again are white compared to blacks, and regarding Kennedy undecided whites outnumber blacks nearly by a factor of three.

And, the poll contacted registered, not likely, voters. That kind of sampling frame usually overstates support for Democrats and understates it for Republicans.

It could have turned out worse – Edwards could have come out behind any or all of the three – but it’s bad enough. Kennedy likely would pose the stiffest challenge, not only as a result of these numbers but also as he has the financial muscle (almost $350,000 left in a dormant state account but over $2.2 million in a federal account that can go into an allied PAC formed by his supporters) to counter anything Edwards throws out there.

Of course, with the election over 19 months out a lot can happen and alter the dynamics of that race. Yet these numbers clearly put Edwards on the defensive and point to something about his governorship having to change if he wants to earn another four years.

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