U.S. Senator David Vitter edges out two fellow Republicans for second spot in the November 21 runoff
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards has made a strong showing in the first round of Louisiana’s gubernatorial election, easily outdistancing Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter and giving himself a chance to become that rarest of creatures — a Democratic governor in the South.
In the state’s October 24 all-party “jungle” primary, Edwards took 40 percent, easily outdistancing the eight other candidates and advancing to the November 21 runoff. Despite having won statewide twice before, Vitter could only manage 23 percent, although that was enough to edge out two other major Republican contenders, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne.
Although the Republican vote is expected to congeal around Vitter in the runoff, the senator — who has been plagued by a persistent sex scandal and trailed Edwards by nearly 188,000 votes in the first round — has a lot of ground to make up. If Edwards wins, he will be one of just four Democrats holding governor’s posts in the South, with the others being in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
If the candidates’ election night speeches are any indication, the runoff is likely to be loud and nasty .
“Over the next few weeks, David Vitter is going to spend millions of dollars lying about my record, lying about my values (and) lying about my service to our country and to our state, ” Edwards told cheering supporters in Baton Rouge. “He’s desperate, and all he offers are lies and hypocrisy.”
“Somehow, the least effective senator in the United States Senate wants to be our next governor. We’re not going to allow that to happen.”
But Vitter told his supporters in suburban New Orleans that “even after President Obama shut down drilling in the Gulf and tried to limit our gun rights and belittled our religious beliefs and pushed amnesty for illegals, John Bel Edwards personally renominated President Obama in the Democratic National Convention.”
“So let’s be clear. Jon Bel Edwards not a casual supporter of Barack Obama. He is a true believer.”
Linking Edwards to Obama and more specifically, Obamacare, is replay of the 2014 U.S. Senate race, when Republicans managed to sink Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu in a state which Obama lost by 17 points in 2012.
However, unlike Landrieu, Edwards is opposed to abortion and gun control, positions that are likely to help him in the culturally conservative Pelican State. But he has come out in favor of expanding Medicaid for uninsured Louisianians, which is a part of Obamacare that many conservatives strongly oppose.
Edwards, 49, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger from Amite, has been in the legislature since 2008. This is his first bid for statewide office.
Vitter, 54, opted to seek the governor’s post instead of running for re-election to the Senate in 2016. He continued to be dogged throughout the campaign by details of a 2007 sex scandal in which he was linked to a prostitution ring in Washington and publicly admitted to unspecified “sin.”
The issue was re-ignited in the closing days of the gubernatorial campaign when a blogger published claims by a former prostitute that she had a relationship with Vitter and that he had pressured her to have abortion after she became pregnant with his child. Vitter denied the allegations.
Edwards made it clear on election night that he would put Vitter’s character front-and-center in the runoff.
“I live by the (West Point) honor code — a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do. And David Vitter wouldn’t last five minutes at West Point,” he said.
One area in which the two men agree is in their critical assessment of incumbent Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, whose approval ratings have plunged as the state dealt with a fiscal crisis. The term-limited Jindal is now running for president.
“Whoever you voted for, we can agree on one big thing: The politicians in Baton Rouge have created on heck of a mess — the state budget in disarray, eight years of cuts to higher education, and so many of our best and brightest having to leave the state for good opportunity,” Vitter said. “We’re going to take our future back.”
While Vitter stopped short of mentioning Jindal by name, Edwards showed no such reticence.
“For eight years, our people have been sacrificed on the altar of Bobby Jindal’s ambition. No more,” Edwards said. “We need a committed, honest, disciplined governor with the leadership ability to bring people together, regardless of race, gender, party (or) geography.”