Last month, shortly after Eddie Rispone wrapped up celebrating his second-place finish in the jungle primary along with hundreds of supporters crammed into a ballroom at Baton Rouge’s L’Auberge Casino, he decided to take a gamble. Instead of spending more time introducing himself to the public, he would focus on patching things up with the conservative donor class.
Conventionally, rookie candidates like Eddie Rispone welcome as much free attention as they can get, but Rispone had already spent $12 million of his own money to blanket television and social media. He may have been obscure a few months prior, but by the night of the jungle primary, his name was well-known. Less known, however, was what Rispone planned to do if elected. He hoped to keep it that way.
During the past month, Rispone has almost entirely avoided anything that would open him up to public scrutiny and instead focused on raising money at a series of private, high-dollar fundraisers available only to people willing to contribute as much as $2,500 just to get in the door.
He would agree to only one televised debate, and during the past month, he has turned down invitations to attend candidate forums from multiple organizations across the state, including those, like the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, who could offer him a friendly audience. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Rispone was right when he calculated that he could coast to victory by limiting, almost completely, his participation in anything his campaign could not directly control.
His performance at the one debate was lackluster, and instead of projecting confidence, his reliance on vague talking points made him look entirely unprepared. Similarly, in an appearance on a conservative talk radio show in Alexandria, Rispone answered an innocuous question about Gov. John Bel Edwards being a West Point graduate in a way that managed to insult West Point and offend military veterans.
Last week, at a fundraiser in Monroe, Rispone was directly asked about his decision to skip out on debates and candidate forums. The exchange was secretly recorded and obtained exclusively by the Bayou Brief on the condition of anonymity.
Below is a transcript of the recording:
Female attendee: You did so well in the last debate. Is there a reason you didn’t do another one?
Eddie Rispone: Another one?
Female attendee: Yeah.
Rispone: Well, to start with, we did well in there, but the time that it takes to get ready for those, when I need to be doing this.
And you have a situation where you have a career politician. All he does is lie. So, you’re sitting there listening to all these lies.
Male attendee: It takes much more funding to put on those.
Rispone: Well, it’s… you lose so much time. Days, we only have nine more days to go. Why do I want to go sit there, let (Edwards) attack me with lies. And you gotta spend a day getting ready. (You) lose a day, then you have to spend a day or two getting ready for it.
And he uses that against you anyway.
If you show up he tries to lie, and (if) you don’t show up, he says you are afraid of him.
I should be here. This is thousands of votes.
The fundraiser was held at the private residence of Bill Krutzer, an oil and gas entrepreneur, and attended by no more than 100 people, according to the person who made the recording.
It remains to be seen whether avoiding almost anything his campaign didn’t control was a smart bet, but regardless, Rispone makes one thing abundantly clear: He believes any time he spends preparing for the job of governor is a day he should have been spending with people willing to donate big money for an opportunity to ask the kind of questions the public is still waiting for him to answer.
A day after his fundraiser in Monroe, Rispone’s campaign held another high-dollar fundraiser… in Mississippi.