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Democrats hold on to Louisiana governor’s seat despite Trump

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has stunned Republicans again, narrowly winning a second term Saturday as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor and handing Donald Trump another gubernatorial loss this year.

In the heart of Trump country, the moderate Edwards cobbled together enough cross-party support with his focus on bipartisan, state-specific issues to defeat Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, getting about 51% of the vote.

Coming after a defeat in the Kentucky governor’s race and sizable losses in Virginia’s legislative races, the Louisiana result seems certain to rattle Republicans as they head into the 2020 presidential election. Trump fought to return the seat to the GOP, making three trips to Louisiana to rally against Edwards.

In a victory rally of his own late Saturday, Edwards thanked supporters who danced, sang and cheered in celebration, while he declared, “How sweet it is!”

He added, “And as for the president, God bless his heart” — a phrase often used by genteel Southerners to politely deprecate someone.

“Tonight the people of Louisiana have chosen to chart their own path,” Edwards said.

Trump had made the runoff election between Edwards and Rispone a test of his own popularity and political prowess heading into the 2020 presidential race. On Saturday, Trump went on Twitter in a vigorous plug for Rispone.

The president’s intense attention motivated not only conservative Republicans, but also powered a surge in anti-Trump and black voter turnout that helped Edwards.

As he conceded the race, Rispone called on supporters to give a round of applause for Trump, saying: “That man loves America and he loves Louisiana.”

Democrats who argue that nominating a moderate presidential candidate is the best approach to beat Trump are certain to say Louisiana’s race bolsters their case. Edwards, a West Point graduate, opposes gun restrictions, signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans and dismissed the impeachment effort as a distraction.

Still, while Rispone’s loss raises questions about the strength of Trump’s coattails, its relevance to his reelection chances are less clear. Louisiana is expected to easily back Trump next year, and Edwards’ views in many ways are out of step with his own party.

In the final days as polls showed Edwards with momentum, national Republicans beefed up assistance for Rispone. That wasn’t enough to boost the GOP contender, who wasn’t among the top-tier candidates Republican leaders hoped would challenge Edwards as they sought to prove that the Democrat’s longshot victory in 2015 was a fluke.

He had ties to unpopular former Gov. Bobby Jindal and offered few details about his agenda. Edwards also proved to be a formidable candidate, with a record of achievements.

Working with the majority-Republican Legislature, Edwards stabilized state finances with a package of tax increases, ending the deficit-riddled years of Jindal. New money paid for investments in public colleges and the first statewide teacher raise in a decade.

Edwards expanded Louisiana’s Medicaid program, lowering the state’s uninsured rate below the national average. A bipartisan criminal sentencing law rewrite he championed ended Louisiana’s tenure as the nation’s top jailer.

Rispone, the 70-year-old owner of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, hitched his entire candidacy to Trump, introducing himself to voters in ads that focused on support for the president in a state Trump won by 20 percentage points.

But the 53-year-old Edwards, a former state lawmaker and former Army Ranger from rural Tangipahoa Parish, reminded voters that he’s a Louisiana Democrat, with political views that sometimes don’t match his party’s leaders.

“They talk about I’m some sort of a radical liberal. The people of Louisiana know better than that. I am squarely in the middle of the political spectrum,” Edwards said. “That hasn’t changed, and that’s the way we’ve been governing.”

Rispone said he was like Trump, describing himself as a “conservative outsider” whose business acumen would help solve the state’s problems.

“We want Louisiana to be No. 1 in the South when it comes to jobs and opportunity. We have to do something different,” Rispone said. “We can do for Louisiana what President Trump has done for the nation.”

The president’s repeated visits appeared to drive turnout for both candidates.

Tour guide Andrea Hartman, 40, cast her ballot for Edwards in New Orleans.

“I do not agree with what Rispone advocates,” she said. “I also don’t want Trump coming here and telling me who to vote for.”

Rispone poured more than $12 million of his own money into the race. But he had trouble drawing some of the primary vote that went to Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, after harshly attacking Abraham in ads as he sought to reach the runoff.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of. We had over 700,000 people in Louisiana who really want something better, something different,” Rispone said.

Rispone also avoided many traditional public events attended by Louisiana gubernatorial candidates and sidestepped questions about his plans. He promised tax cuts, without saying where he’d shrink spending, and he pledged a constitutional convention, without detailing what he wanted to rewrite.

Both parties spent millions on attack ads and get-out-the-vote work, on top of at least $36 million spent by candidates.

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Boris Johnson can turn his victory into history if he can save the UK from division

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street for Buckingham Palace where he will seek permission to form the next government during an audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Downing Street on December 13, 2019 in London, England.

Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

It is just the sort of script one might expect from Boris Johnson, one of the most enigmatically fascinating personalities of our times.

Prime Minister Johnson – who famously craves both public attention and a place in history – won the former and a shot at the latter through a British election victory this week that was the most convincing conservative victory since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. To save the United Kingdom itself, however, he must reverse course, or at least amend direction, on much of what he has said and done to win in the first place.

I opposed Brexit on economic and political grounds yet, at the same time, Johnson might have the political flexibility, the intellectual chops and the Churchillian ambition to confound his critics along the five lines of action he must simultaneously pursue to find his historic place.

  • Most importantly, he’ll have to negotiate a “no-tariffs, no-quotas” trade deal by end-2020 with a European Union that he has disparaged, knowing that it by some distance is the U.K.’s major trade partner.
  • Second, he will have to rapidly restore external economic confidence in a country that has been suffering disinvestment, an economic slowdown, and doubts about its continued role as a European and global financial hub.
  • Third, he should still aspire to get a trade and investment deal with an impeachment-distracted President Trump. At the same time, he should share with voters how unlikely that will be and embrace what might be faster and easier opportunities in Asia, namely negotiating his way into the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
  • Fourth, he’ll have to abandon much of the populist rhetoric that got him elected and embrace his encouraging “One Nation” message of this week that could heal the country’s divisions – and perhaps also slow a European-wide and global populist trend.
  • Finally, he’ll need save the United Kingdom from unraveling by convincing Scotland and Northern Ireland of their future place – while heading off another Scottish independence referendum. A successful EU negotiation will help that.

Media pundits in recent months have compared and associated the rise of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump as populists who have turned their countries’ politics upside down. Yet the comparisons only go so far, given Boris’ bookish, multilingual, multicultural background and intellectual passion.

He was born in Manhattan as Alexander, then raised in Brussels until age 11, before being shipped to British boarding a year after his mother’s breakdown, a life richly chronicled by Tom McTague in The Atlantic last July. Somewhere along the way the quiet child became the boisterous, eccentric British Boris. He developed a comic demeanor, a disheveled mean (and mane), a rapier intellect with a taste for the classics, and an insatiable desire to be liked.

From all of this grew his self-proclaimed ambition to be “world king.”

“I often thought that the idea of being world king,” said his mother of her illness’ impact on Boris, “was a wish to make him unhurtable, invincible somehow, safe from the pains of life, the pains of your mother disappearing for eight months, the pains of your parents splitting up.” The biographer Sonia Purnell says Johnson told girlfriends that his way of coping was to make himself invulnerable “so that he would never experience such pain again.”

The Brexit referendum and— three years later— his election vote are part psychological and part political drama for Boris Johnson, the stuff of a West End musical. His Friday speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street showed how quickly he can change his tune from that of the campaign to one of governance.

Speaking to those voters who opposed him and wished to remain in the EU, he said, “I want you to know that we in this One Nation Conservative government will never ignore your good and positive feelings – of warmth and sympathy toward the other nations of Europe.”

He went further.

“As we work together with the EU as friends and sovereign equals in tackling climate change and terrorism, in building academic and scientific cooperation, redoubling our trading relationship…,” he said, “I urge everyone to find closure and let the healing begin.”

If the U.K.’s economy emerges as robust and healthy, other European countries might wonder about the value of staying in.

That will be easier said than done as Johnson will now have to decide what kind of U.K. he wishes to build – one more akin to its neighbors in the EU or one more resembling a low-tax, deregulated Singapore-on-Thames.

“Brexit will formally happen next month, to much fanfare,” writes the Economist, “but the hardest arguments, about whether to forgo market access for the ability to deregulate, have not begun. Mr. Johnson will either have to face down his own Brexit ultras or hammer the economy with a minimal EU deal.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, enamored by his colleague’s intellect and linguistic skill, has called Boris Johnson “a leader with genuine strategic vision” who should be taken seriously. This week he extended an olive branch while in Brussels, telling “British friends and allies something very simple: by this general election, you confirmed the choice made more than three years ago, but you are not leaving Europe.”

On the other hand, he has warned, the best way to reach the most ambitious trade agreement with the EU would be if the U.K. essentially says “we don’t want to change very much.”

So, the drama will continue. If the U.K.’s economy emerges as robust and healthy, other European countries might wonder about the value of staying in. If Johnson defines his country as too close to the European Union, irrespective of economic logic, his base may well ask what the past three years’ drama has achieved other than serving Johnson’s own political ambitions.

It’s time to raise the curtain on the next act.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.



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‘Historic’ deal with China will be good for global growth: Steven Mnuchin

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to the news media after giving a television interview at the White House in Washington, December 3, 2018.

Leah Millis | Reuters

The “historic” phase one trade agreement reached Friday between the U.S. and China will boost global growth, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Doha Forum on Saturday, Mnuchin said the partial deal would address a host of issues central to Washington’s trade agenda.

“This deals with intellectual property, this deals with technology transfer, it deals with structural agricultural issues, financial services are opening up, currency understandings, as well as a commitment to purchase U.S. agriculture and U.S. goods,” he said.

Mnuchin also dismissed the notion that the U.S. was pushing back on the rules-based trading system, arguing that a level playing field with China would benefit the global economy.

“For a very long period of time the U.S. was open to China, China was not open to the U.S. There were very strong restrictions and for the first and second largest economy in the world, there should be more trading back and forth and that’s what we’ve been working on, and I think these agreements will not only be good for the U.S., but will be very good for global growth,” he added.

Global stocks surged Friday as Washington and Beijing announced that the partial accord had been reached, averting the next round of U.S. tariffs after a bruising 18-month trade war.

U.S. and Chinese negotiators will now work toward setting a timescale to sign the agreement, which is still subject to legal procedures, with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer telling reporters Friday that the two sides would aim to ink the deal in January in Washington.

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Brexit deal will be a ‘good thing for the UK economy,’ US Treasury Secretary says

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Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin

SAUL LOEB | AFP | Getty Images

Finally completing the Brexit divorce deal between the EU and the U.K. will provide much needed stability for the British economy, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC Saturday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a general election with a thumping majority this week and looks set to complete the first stage of Brexit at the end of January. However, three-and-a-half years of wrangling means it’s begins schedule and that delay has hurt business sentiment and investments.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Doha Forum, Mnuchin said he expects Johnson will now get his deal on Brexit done with his commanding majority in the House of Commons and said the two sides were “absolutely” moving toward trade discussions.

“My expectation is that the prime minister will now get his deal on Brexit done. Which I think is a good thing for the U.K. economy. The U.K. just needs stability on this issue,” he said.

“I’ve been hearing for too long ‘they’re in, they’re out, they’re in, they’re out’ and we’ll begin trading discussions with them. We’re very much looking forward that trading relationship,” he added.

Johnson’s Conservatives now have 365 parliamentary seats, a majority of 80 in the House of Commons. The result, which proved even more decisive than pollsters had forecast, follows a bitterly-fought and divisive election campaign.

In a tweet published Friday morning, President Donald Trump offered his congratulations to the newly-elected prime minister, describing the better-than-expected result for his friend as a “great win.”

“Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new trade deal after Brexit,” Trump said. “This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!”

—CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this article.

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