By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Grab a plate of jambalaya and black-eyed peas, maybe with a beer.
Take a seat for the stump speeches. And then, select your favored GOP candidate for governor on the paper ballot and slap on an “I Voted” sticker.
Welcome to the Iowa Straw Poll, Louisiana-style.
And that’s pronounced “I-oh-way,” meaning the tiny town in southwest Louisiana where the event is being held, not “I-oh-wah” as in the nation’s midwestern state.
Southwestern Louisiana Republicans are hosting the state’s first-ever gubernatorial straw poll Saturday afternoon.
They hope the 350 or so people expected to gather in the town of Iowa’s local Knights of Columbus Hall will determine a clear front-runner in GOP effort to keep John Bel Edwards from winning a second term as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor.
Two Republicans have announced they are challenging Edwards on the Oct. 12 ballot: U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a doctor and third-term congressman from northeast Louisiana, and Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman making his first bid for elected office after years as a hefty political donor.
Both GOP contenders will deliver remarks at the $25-a-plate event hosted by the Calcasieu Republican Parish Executive Committee and the Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana.
“Hopefully, whoever comes out victorious will have momentum behind them in the dog days of summer, and we can start to coalesce behind a candidate,” said Jeremy Stine, an executive committee member who helped organize the straw poll event.
Without a closed primary system, Louisiana’s candidates for office run against each other on the same primary ballot, regardless of party. Republicans worry that two well-financed candidates competing for governor could split the party’s focus, strike at each other, and give Edwards an edge for reelection.
Republicans blame splintered attention and attacks among their own candidates for helping to elect Edwards four years ago. In that 2015 race, GOP candidates Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne focused their criticism on Republican rival David Vitter instead of Edwards in the primary, and Vitter limped into the runoff against Edwards badly wounded from the hits.
Stine said organizers of Louisiana’s Iowa Straw Poll think Republicans benefit with support rallied behind one major GOP candidate for governor, and they see their region as indicative of the state.
“I feel like it’s a fairly good representation of the folks that will be voting, come October,” Stine said.
Anyone, no matter the party affiliation, can buy a ticket and cast a ballot, though mainly Republicans are expected to show up. The only requirement, Stine said, is the voters have to be at least 18 years old, Louisiana’s legal voting age.
Attendees also will be choosing their favored contenders for state House and Senate seats, after hearing from those candidates.
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