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Democrat John Bel Edwards wins Louisiana governorship

Edwards defeats GOP U.S. Senator David Vitter, who announces he won’t seek re-election

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

louisiana mugNEW ORLEANS (CFP) — Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards will be the next governor of Louisiana after defeating Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter in a contentious runoff.

In his concession speech, Vitter announced that he will not seek re-election to  the Senate next year, opening a seat Republicans will have to defend to keep their majority.

Louisiana Governor-elect John Bel Edwards

Louisiana Governor-elect John Bel Edwards

Edwards took 56 percent in the November 21 vote, to just 44 percent for Vitter, easily winning a race few people thought Edwards could win when he announced his long-shot candidacy in 2013.

“The people have chosen hope over scorn, over negativity and over the distrust of others,” Edwards said at his victory party in a New Orleans hotel.

“I did not create this breeze of hope that’s blowing across our beautiful and blessed state, but I did catch it. And I thank God I did.”

Edwards, 49, an attorney and former Army Ranger from Amite, was the minority leader in the Louisiana House, where he was a strong critic of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, particularly over Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

However, Edwards ran a race tailored to culturally conservative Louisiana–opposing abortion and supporting gun rights–to become the first Democrat to win a statewide race in seven years.

He will be one of just three Democratic governors in the 14 Southern states. The others are in Virginia and West Virginia.

U.S. Senator David Vitter

U.S. Senator David Vitter

Vitter, 54, started out the race for governor heavily favored. But he was dogged by two Republican challengers in the state’s all-party “jungle” primary and started the runoff far behind Edwards, who had the united support of Democrats.

So bitter was the primary that one of Vitter’s two Republican opponents, Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, crossed party lines to endorse Edwards, angering the state’s GOP establishment. The other, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, sat out the runoff rather than supporting Vitter.

The senator was burdened both by Jindal’s marked unpopularity and continued fallout over a 2007 scandal in which he was linked to a Washington prostitution ring.

In the closing days of the campaign, Vitter tried to make the possible resettlement of Syrian refugees in Louisiana an issue, but it was not enough to catch Edwards, despite the state’s strong GOP tendencies.

“I have lost one political campaign in my life–tonight–and, ironically, it’s the campaign and the political effort I am most proud of, particularly these last few weeks, fighting shoulder to shoulder with you,” Vitter said during his concession speech at a hotel in suburban New Orleans.

Vitter then announced to his supporters that he would not seek re-election next year, ending his 23-year political career that took him from the State House in Baton Rouge to the halls of Congress.

“I had decided when I decided to make this race … that I wanted to pursue new challenges outside the Senate, no matter what,” he said. “I’d reached my personal term limit.”

While Republicans would be favored to keep the seat, Vitter’s decision gives Democrats their best chance outside of Florida of flipping a Southern Senate seat in 2016.

 


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