Bayou State voters shocked the Louisiana Republican Party and pundits across the country Saturday night, overwhelmingly choosing Democratic State Representative John Bel Edwards as the next governor of Louisiana over the once-heavy favorite, U.S. Republican Senator David Vitter, a victor of many past statewide elections.
Edwards, forty-nine, currently represents Louisiana’s 72nd District in its House of Representatives. His gubernatorial campaign enjoyed the support of a united Democratic Party from the get-go, whereas several Republicans clashed with each other in the hopes of succeeding incumbent Bobby Jindal, who is term-limited.
Louisiana, for readers who don’t know, has a messy jungle-style general election similar to our awful Top Two system. In fact, it was the inspiration for I‑872, the initiative that created the Two Two system. In Louisiana, candidates from all parties compete against each other, and there is no partisan primary as there is in most other states. If no candidate gets a majority in the general election, the top two candidates advance to a runoff in late November or early December.
Vitter beat out two other Republicans for the right to face Edwards in a runoff, but is losing badly tonight. With all 3,945 of Louisiana’s precincts now reporting, the final results for tonight’s historic and remarkable runoff are as follows:
|John Bel Edwards (D)||56.11%||646,860 votes|
|David Vitter ®||43.89%||505,929 votes|
On January 18th, 2016, Edwards will become the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, and one of only two Democratic statewide officeholders in the region.
Edwards ran a brilliant campaign that neatly capitalized on Vitter’s weaknesses, especially his involvement in the D.C. Madam scandal that rocked Capitol Hill several years ago. Edwards’ campaign aired ads that hammered Vitter for choosing “prostitutes over patriots” (like this spot, titled, The Choice).
Republicans, who resort to negative campaigning all the time, were hardly in a position to complain, but they did so anyway… loudly. It didn’t matter.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, Vitter tried to ride the abhorrent national wave of anti-refugee sentiment to victory. But that last ditch scheme didn’t work either, and throughout Election Night, he found himself well behind Edwards.
“This election shows us that the people of Louisiana in a time of deep cynicism about our politics, and also about our future, that the people have chosen hope over scorn… over negativity,” a jubilant Edwards said to his cheering supporters during his victory speech at the Monteleone Hotel.
He added: “I did not create this breeze of hope that’s rolling across our beautiful and blessed state. But I did catch it, and I thank God I did.”
Edwards’ victory speech followed Vitter’s concession, in which Vitter announced that he had phoned Edwards to offer his congratulations. Vitter’s concession speech was surprisingly gracious, and Edwards was correspondingly magnanimous in victory. Edwards was introduced by his brother, following a prayer offered by his pastor.
Vitter told dejected supporters he would leave politics next year, choosing not to run for another term in the U.S. Senate. His retirement will leave an open seat. Democrats will now need to recruit a strong candidate to take advantage.
After Edwards is sworn in, he is expected to commit Louisiana to an expansion of Medicaid, which will mean that thousands of families in the Bayou State who currently don’t have decent health coverage will finally be able to get it. The man Edwards is succeeding, the extraordinarily unpopular Republican Bobby Jindal, has been an utter disaster as governor and is leaving quite the mess behind.
The new governor’s first order of business in 2016 will be a special legislative session to confront the budget crash. Jindal imposed draconian cuts on higher education to offset the skyrocketing health care costs created by his expensive alternative to [the Patient Protection Act]: UNO, once a rising regional research hub, lost 183 professors—39 percent of its full-time faculty. Some 290,000 people in the state have no health coverage, because Jindal refused Medicaid funds under [the Patient Protection Act] on ideological grounds. Edwards has said he will accept the funds, which would at least be a first step in stanching the hemorrhaging state budget.
In so many respects, John Bel Edwards was the perfect candidate at the perfect time for Louisiana Democrats. He is a devout Catholic, U.S. Army veteran, and family man whose roots in the state go incredibly deep. One of his ancestors fought with General and later President Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, and his family has been active in Bayou State politics for decades. His brother is a parish sheriff. So was his father, like his father’s father, who was also a state senator.
Edwards is socially conservative, but that’s to be expected of Democratic candidates in red regions like the Deep South. Like me, he was a Democratic delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte for Barack Obama.
The Republican Governors Association tried to use this fact to associate Edwards with President Barack Obama (who Edwards has never met), but as we can see from tonight’s election results, that dog simply wouldn’t hunt this time.
We at NPI extend our congratulations to John Bel Edwards on his amazing victory in this gubernatorial runoff, and wish him the best as he prepares to take office as Louisiana’s new chief executive. We hope he governs progressively and brings broad prosperity to the Bayou State’s many diverse communities.