Louisiana: Will Edwards beat Vitter?

Louisiana: Will Edwards beat Vitter?

By Hastings Wyman –

It was supposed to be David Vitter’s coronation. But the October 24 “jungle primary” for governor left the supposed frontrunner in a vulnerable second place behind conservative Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, with the November 21 runoff fast approaching. Moreover, Vitter’s strong-arm tactics against his fellow Republicans in the primary cost him dearly. Jay Dardenne (R), the state’s lieutenant governor, quickly endorsed Edwards and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle (R) has so far remained silent. Moreover, incumbent Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is no help at all to Vitter. Not only is Jindal unpopular, due to the state’s fiscal problems, but he is spending much of his time in Iowa, campaigning for president.

By contrast, Democrats of all stripes have united behind Edwards, including the more liberal New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has raised funds for Edwards. In addition, Baton Rouge’s African-American Mayor Kip Holden is on the runoff ballot for lieutenant governor, which should encourage a large black turnout that will benefit Edwards.

Despite Vitter’s attack ads liberally sprinkled with the words “liberal” and “Obama” in reference to Edwards, Louisiana’s conservative electorate has so far shown no signs of coming home to the Republican. At least four polls have shown Edwards in the lead, by varying margins. Only one, however, shows him over 50%.

“We haven’t seen any significant erosion of Edwards’ support since the primary,” says Trey Ourso, a political consultant supporting the Democratic candidate. “It has turned into a referendum on [Vitter’s] values and his character. It’s all about David Vitter. Louisiana voters have lost faith in him and are having a hard time thinking about handing him the keys to the

governor’s mansion.”

The now-infamous Democratic TV spot proclaimed that Vitter missed a vote commemorating 28 soldiers who had been killed at about the same time he took a call from a madam. A female voice-over says, “David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots.”

The scandal is “the talk of the town,” says Joshua Stockley, political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

In response, a Vitter TV spot launched last week shows the senator and his family sitting around a kitchen table. “Fifteen years ago, I failed my family, but found forgiveness and love. I learned that our falls aren’t what define us, but rather how we get up, accept responsibility and earn redemption. Now Louisiana has fallen on hard times … And as your governor, I’ll get up every day to fight for you.”

“I don’t think the scandal itself alone would explain why Vitter is trailing,” says Stockley. He adds that the negativity Vitter used against his fellow Republicans hurt him not only with Dardenne and Angelle, but compounded his reputation as a slash-and-burn politician. “On top of that, a lot of people find it difficult to warm up to Vitter… Nobody calls him ‘David’.”

By contrast, says Stockley, Edwards “has an impeccable reputation, works well with others and is popular even with his political opponents.”

The GOP’s main hope is that Louisiana’s electorate has become so intensely Republican that a Democrat can’t win statewide. “The bottom has dropped out of the Democrats, outside of African Americans,” says the lobbyist. Edwards is pro-gun and pro-life, removing two key weapons from the GOP’s arsenal. Republicans, however, are pointing out that despite his conservative social agenda, Edwards will be obligated to such Democratic groups as the trial lawyers and the teachers’ unions.

One last hope of Vitter supporters is that the polls are way off, as they were in the Kentucky governor’s election earlier this month. All of them showed Jack Conway (D) significantly ahead of Matt Bevin (R), who won by nine points when the actual votes were counted.