Democrat Edwards defeats GOP Vitter for LA governor

Democratic State Representative John Bel Edwards has defeated GOP Senator David Vitter in a hard fought, dirty campaign for the governorship of Louisiana.

Edwards - about as conservative as Democrats come - racked up 56% of the vote compared to Vitter's 43%. Edwards supports gun rights and is anti-abortion. And his name isn't Vitter, which was one of the deciding factors.

Vitter became embroiled in a prostitiution scandal in 2007. He overcame it to win re-election in 2010, but the issue returned with a vengeance in this race, as Edwards released a series of devastating ads that hurt him with conservatives in the state.

There was also dissension in Republican ranks. Conservative GOP candidates received 57% in the open primary earlier this month. But the man who finished 3rd behind Vitter and Edwards, threw his support to the Democrat, further complicating Vitter's efforts.

It wasn't thought a Democrat had a decent shot at winning a statewide race in 2015, let alone the governor's race. A few rising stars in the party, like New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, choose not to run for higher office this election cycle because their prospects of winning looked so weak. 

But Edwards proved them wrong. A West Point graduate who served in the Legislature for eight years, Edwards led the primary with 40 percent of the vote, built up big leads in the polls and bulked up his fundraising during the runoff. The Democrat emphasized his conservative views on topics like abortion and guns throughout the campaign, in order to stave off concerns that he was too liberal for Louisiana.  

"John Bel, as much as possible, attempted to identify with Republicans," said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. 

Edwards attracted a surprising number of endorsements from law enforcement groups, such as the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, that are more inclined to favor Republicans. The Louisiana State Troopers Association, which rarely endorses gubernatorial candidates, backed Edwards. 

The outcome of the election, however, may have turned more on Vitter's weaknesses than Edwards' appeal. The senator's years-old prostitution scandal and difficult relationships with several Republicans in the state proved to be too much to overcome. Vitter has had "high negatives" in political polling for years -- meaning many voters have an unfavorable view of him -- but that hadn't kept him from winning campaigns -- until now. 

The endorsement of Edwards by LT. Governor Jay Dardenne probably sealed Vitter's fare:

Just a month ago, Vitter and other Republican candidates combined to win over 57 percent of the vote in the October all-party primary. But some conservative voters peeled away from the party in the runoff election, encouraged by the Republican supporters (including Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who endorsed Edwards after finishing behind Vitter in the primary) that Edwards touted on the campaign trail.

Edwards becomes the first Democrat to win statewide office in Louisiana since 2008 and the first Dem to win a governorship since before President Obama took office. The party's fortunes in the deep south have been abysmal with Republicans making gains all across the region.

Democrats will seek to convince themselves that Edwards' victory is somehow the "turn of the tide" and represents a comeback for the party that will carry over into 2016.

That's delusional. Vitter, a flawed candidate, unpopular in his own party, running against a Democrat who sounded an awful lot like a Republican, lost this election on his own. Elsewhere in the south, when Democrats try to "out-Republican" Republicans, people have usually preferred the real deal to the copycat. 

The Senate race in Lousiana will be interesting, but even without a strong candidate, the GOP base of support gives any Republican nominee an advantage. The race will lean Republican no matter who ends up the nominee. And that's a reality that Democrats ignore at their own peril.


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