ELECTION 2019 LOUISIANA GOVERNOR

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the lectern as the Press Club of Baton Rouge hosts a forum for the three gubernatorial candidates Monday Sept. 23, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, faced his two Republican challengers, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, , right at table background, who has represented Louisiana's fifth congressional district since 2015, and businessman Eddie Rispone, of Baton Rouge, left at table background. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to hire a chief deputy previously accused of sexual harassment is the target of a new Republican-financed attack ad that aims to dent the Democratic incumbent’s support from women.

The 30-second spot released Thursday by the Republican Governors Association’s PAC comes as national GOP leaders step up efforts to keep the Deep South’s only Democratic governor from outright victory in the Oct. 12 election. Vice President Mike Pence plans to travel to Louisiana on Saturday to rally support for defeating Edwards.

The RGA ad reminds voters about Johnny Anderson, who had been accused in a prior government job of sexual misconduct by multiple women and who left Edwards’ office in 2017 after new allegations emerged in one of Louisiana’s highest-profile #MeToo cases.

Running statewide on broadcast and cable stations, the ad could be the closing argument many voters see from Republicans as thousands are casting their ballots in the early voting period that ends Saturday.

Showing photos of Anderson and Edwards, a female narrator recounts the allegations, saying: “Anderson had already been investigated for sexually harassing six women. Edwards hired him anyway. It happened again.”

The narrator urges: “Speak for the victims. Vote against John Bel Edwards.”

Edwards has defended his hiring decision and said Anderson was forced out quickly when the new sexual harassment allegations emerged.

The Democratic incumbent faces two major Republicans seeking to keep him from a second term: Ralph Abraham, a third-term congressman from northeast Louisiana, and Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman largely self-financing his campaign.

Polls show Edwards well ahead of his competitors, within striking distance of a primary victory that Abraham and Rispone are trying to disrupt. In Louisiana, all contenders run on the same ballot regardless of party. If Edwards doesn't top 50% of the vote, he'll face a head-to-head Nov. 16 matchup against the second-place finisher.

The RGA attack ad is the latest in a string of multimillion-dollar advertising the organization has launched against Edwards and follows tweets this week from President Donald Trump urging Louisiana Republicans to vote for either Rispone or Abraham.

Edwards tapped Anderson to be deputy chief of staff for programs and planning, overseeing the office of women’s policy, even after several women lodged sexual misconduct allegations against Anderson a decade earlier. In 2006, multiple female employees at Southern University accused Anderson of harassment when he worked for then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was the university system board chairman.

A year into the Edwards administration, a woman who worked with Anderson in the governor’s office again accused Anderson of harassment, and he left his post in November 2017. Taxpayers paid for a settlement and legal costs that reached nearly $108,000. Anderson continues to deny wrongdoing in both the 2006 and 2017 allegations.

Asked in a recent governor’s race debate about Anderson, Edwards said his office ended Anderson's tenure “within about half a day” when the new claims surfaced. He said he hired Anderson because he believed him a "good, competent public servant" who had been cleared of the earlier allegations.

But Anderson wasn’t directly exonerated of those decade-old claims. Instead, the lawyer who led the Blanco-ordered investigation said the university system didn't cooperate, making it difficult to determine if the allegations had merit, according to media reports.

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