IOWA, La. — Republican voters on Saturday chose U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham over Eddie Rispone as the favorite to challenge Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards in the upcoming gubernatorial election Oct. 12.

Hundreds gathered at the town's Knights of Columbus Hall for the inaugural "Iowa" straw poll, hosted by the Calcasieu Parish Republican Executive Committee and the Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana. Candidates running for governor and several legislative seats gave stump speeches before a vote was taken.

Abraham received 180 votes, while Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman, got 94 votes.

Jeremy Stine, Calcasieu Republican Executive Committee member, said the excitement could be felt throughout the day.

"We truly believe the folks here especially are excited about the potential of a new governor," he said. "People want change."

Abraham, who currently represents Louisiana's 5th congressional district, called for cutting taxes and fixing the state's legal climate.

"It is decimating our oil and gas industry, along with others," he said. "We're going to jumpstart this economy; we're going to give people jobs that they need and want and move this state in the right direction."

Abraham and Rispone agreed on lowering Louisiana's car insurance rates.

Rispone said his business background is crucial to growing the state's economy. He said voters want Louisiana "to reach its full potential."

"They're tired of out-migration, taxes and not getting what they paid for," Rispone said. "We need to do something totally different."

Legislative seats

For Senate District 25, current state Rep. Mark Abraham received 144 votes. Kevin Berken received 107 votes, while Johnny Guinn, a term-limited state representative who was absent from the event, received 10 votes.

Abraham said Louisiana needs to invest in its teachers and students, along with its infrastructure. He also called for easing regulations on existing businesses and cutting waste, fraud and abuse from the budget.

"You're not going to solve it overnight," Abraham said of the budget problems. "It's a step-by-step process."

Berken, a political newcomer, mentioned his plan, 40th in 4, which seeks to get Louisiana ranked 40th in the nation within four years. He mentioned several areas that need improvement, such as education, health care, infrastructure, fixing an outdated tax system and stabilizing the budget.

"I'm tired of Louisiana being on top of the ‘worst' lists," Berken said. "I just don't think that's acceptable. I'm not going to Baton Rouge to do the same old thing."

For House District 36, Mike Eason received 185 votes, while Phillip Tarver, who did not attend, received 57 votes. Eason, who has never held public office, spoke of his 40-year career in business and the need for Louisiana to become more business-friendly.

"You don't put recurring expenses without recurring revenue; that's accounting 101," Eason said.

For House District 37, Marion "Butch" Fox received 135 votes, while Troy Romero received 104 votes. Shalon Latour, current District 10 Calcasieu police juror, did not attend.

Fox said her main goals as a state lawmaker would be to protect and provide for businesses, and encourage more jobs in the oil and gas industry. Romero spoke of the need to expand agriculture, shrink the government and push for fiscal responsibility.

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