I don't know Eddie Rispone, the first Republican to declare a challenge to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in next year's gubernatorial race. That surely puts me in the same boat as most Louisianans. Rispone is founder of an industrial contracting company and a familiar face among GOP insiders, but his is not a household name, the way, say, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy's and Attorney General Jeff Landry's are.
That gives Rispone the opportunity to define himself for voters, and he says he's prepared to spend $5 million of his own money to do it. But he'd better act quickly, because pro-Edwards forces are already on the case.
Stephen Handwerk, the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, took to Twitter to link Rispone to a better-known name: Bobby Jindal. That could work, against Rispone and also another potential Edwards challenger, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry chief Stephen Waguespack, a former aide to the deeply unpopular former governor.
Rispone has general partisan voting patterns on his side, but maybe not history. The occasional rich outsider has run for high office in Louisiana, but in modern times, voters have always gone for people with government experience. New Orleans tried, but that didn't exactly work out; despite all the cynicism over political insiders, it was the businessman mayor, Ray Nagin, who wound up in federal prison.
And of course, Rispone may not just have to worry about dispatching Edwards, who still enjoys a strong approval/disapproval ratio despite the D behind his name.
Kennedy, Landry, Waguespack and more are still out there on the sidelines, maybe or maybe not preparing to jump in. I doubt Rispone's entry is going to be the deciding factor in dissuading anyone.
If anything, it's the first shoe to drop, in a race that's still largely unformed. It won't be the last.
-- Stephanie Grace writes a column on Louisiana politics for The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge.