Mr. Edwards has steadily refused to criticize Mr. Trump and indeed has seized every opportunity he could to visit the White House to burnish his image with conservatives. Yet he had no reservations about slamming Mr. Rispone for clinging to the president’s coattails.
“If he had a message that resonated with Louisiana voters, that was about Louisiana, he wouldn’t need to try to nationalize the race,” Mr. Edwards told reporters at a campaign stop in New Orleans this week. “He’s an uninspiring candidate who doesn’t know very much about how state government works.”
Still, Mr. Rispone, who founded with his brother an industrial engineering, construction and maintenance company in Baton Rouge, considered his neophyte status as a benefit rather than a deficiency, casting himself as a Trump-like candidate for Louisiana, putting his business experience to use for the state.
Indeed, Mr. Rispone never passed on an opportunity to highlight his allegiance to the president. He opened his candidacy with an ad boasting of how he had a Trump bumper sticker on his pickup truck. He ran as much on the same national issues the president did, most notably illegal immigration, as he did anything connected to state government. And when Mr. Rispone addressed supporters at an election night gathering in October, he started his speech by saying he had just gotten off the phone with the president, leading the crowd to chant “Trump!” Mr. Rispone’s first two ads in the runoff showed footage of Mr. Trump but none of the candidate.
On Thursday, Mr. Trump traveled to Bossier City, La., near Shreveport in the northern part of the state, to renew his attack on Mr. Edwards and to urge the crowd to “send a message to the corrupt Democrats in Washington” by voting for Mr. Rispone. He reiterated his support for Mr. Rispone on Saturday with multiple tweets.
Mr. Trump’s support helped sway Michael Derouen, who works in seafood sales. He described both candidates as “pretty decent,” but ultimately, he sided with Mr. Rispone because he believed a change might jolt Louisiana forward and a strong relationship with the president would only offer more of a boost.
“He’s not just a politician,” Mr. Derouen said just after voting at a fire station in East Baton Rouge Parish. “He’s a businessman, which opens the door for us and the state. We want an all-around guy, not just a politician.”