On Saturday night, Louisiana elected for governor a very liberal Democrat legislator with absolutely no accomplishments other than having served in the military for eight years. He has filed and supported legislation to stop school choice, done the bidding of trial lawyers, and even promised to expand Medicaid (though he is currently backing away from it). So, why on earth would Louisiana do this?
Was it a sign that the state was turning blue? If that were the case, Billy Nungesser and Jeff Landry would not have won Lt. Governor and Attorney General, respectively. In fact, Nungesser got nearly as many votes as John Bel Edwards did for governor. That is a huge crossover vote. Jeff Landry ran as a conservative reformer and won big. So, take the idea of the state flipping off the table, then.
What played into the election of Edwards was character, and it wasn’t that the winner had it. The people of Louisiana felt that [mc_name name=’Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’V000127′ ]’s was the worse of the two.
Truth be told, given events that transpired between early voting and election day, there were signs that the election could and would swing Vitter’s way. A huge early vote (making up about 23% of the total vote, which is nearly unheard of in the state) gave Edwards a huge lead and Vitter simply couldn’t make up the difference. Early voting was a phenomenal indicator of the final turnout.
Voters simply did not feel a connection with the Vitter campaign. Vitter had released a pretty thorough plan on the reforms he’d make in the state, but he never really touted those in ads between the primary and the runoff. His ads of note were comparing Edwards to Obama, attacking Edwards for attending an event hosted by a strip club (who provided drinks and a party bus to take people to vote), and talking about how his family forgave him for his “serious sin” and how you should, too.
Vitter, outside of the family ad, did not really try to connect with Republicans across the state. We know there were enough voting to give him the win (again, Nungesser and Landry are proof of that), but he trashed Jindal in a way to alienate any of those remaining supporters, and didn’t build any sort of bridges with more moderate voters. The key to this race was a re-branding of Vitter, but we never got that. We got Washington strategy in a Louisiana race.
Moreover, as Erick mentioned, Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne did nothing to help, with the latter actually endorsing Edwards over Vitter. Angelle, in hedging his bets, stayed mum on the subject, eyeing the Congressional seat or the Senate seat that could potentially open up. Their action/inaction, gave plenty of Republican politicians, officials, consultants, and other groups the cover needed to cross over and vote for a Democrat without fear of repercussion.
And, both options do open up now – Vitter has announced he will not run for re-election for Senate. Charles Boustany will run, as will other Congressmen, and Angelle could very well jump into the race for Boustany’s seat if he does not want Vitter’s. Dardenne’s ambitions appear to lay closer to home – rumors are flying about what he was given in exchange for his support for Edwards (the governor-elect has denied he offered the top administrative job to Dardenne, but who knows what will happen in Louisiana?).
The problem here is that Louisiana Republicans have elected a big government Democrat to the top job in the state. The governor’s job holds a ton of power, still. Add to that a bunch of weak Republicans in the state legislature (there are strong feelings in the Edwards camp toward making a Democrat House Speaker, despite the Republican majority, and the Republicans won’t fight that much. Plus, the Senate President is about as liberal as it gets on the Republican side.), and you have a recipe for a lot of lasting damage to the state in the next four years.
Now, despite Vitter losing by the biggest margin of any Republican since David Duke in 1991, there is another bit of history that can’t be overlooked: No Democrat has won re-election for governor in decades, and it’s a trend that will likely continue with Edwards. He does not have the conservative credentials to stay governor of this state.