Republican Sen. David Vitter and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards will face each other for the Louisiana governorship in a Nov. 21 runoff, after a bitter campaign where Vitter faced aggressive attacks from two Republican rivals. Edwards consolidated Democratic support and earned the most votes, followed by Vitter, who was competing for votes with two other Republicans, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.
With 83 percent of precincts reporting, Edwards led with 39 percent, while Vitter inched past Angelle for the second spot with 23 percent of the vote. Angelle is winning 20 percent, more than 25,000 votes behind Vitter. The Associated Press declared that Vitter secured a spot in the runoff.
Vitter overcame personal criticism from his Republican rivals over his character because of his years-old prostitution scandal, and faced a last-minute twist Friday when a private investigator hired by Vitter’s campaign was arrested for recording a conversation among a local sheriff and an Edwards donor. Pursuit of the investigator led to the discovery of documents in his car suggesting that he was also looking into a blogger who published incendiary but unproven allegations against Vitter last week tied to the prostitution scandal.
Despite Vitter’s political challenges, Edwards faces the unenviable task of trying to overcome the unpopularity of the Democratic party in Louisiana. Public polling shows President Obama remains more unpopular than Vitter. Louisiana voters reelected Vitter in 2010 with over 56 percent of the vote, and soundly rejected Obama twice. No Louisiana Democrat has won election statewide since Obama became president. “A vote for John Bel Edwards is a vote for Barack Obama, big government, and higher taxes,” said Republican Governors Association communications director Jon Thompson in a post-primary statement.
Regardless, some public polls have hinted at Edwards’ potential to run competitively against Vitter in a runoff. “The primary results were a clear repudiation of David Vitter’s tired Washington politics. Louisiana voters know that they just can’t trust David Vitter. That’s why more than 70 percent of them rejected his campaign today," said Democratic Governors Association executive director Elisabeth Pearson.
Edwards’s main challenge will be the same as that of all Southern Democrats in recent years—winning enough of the state's increasingly conservative white vote. Edwards has been playing up his military background and his Catholic faith, as well as his conservative positions on abortion and guns. The Democratic Governors Association doesn’t have plans in place to spend money on behalf of Edwards, though they’re keeping tabs on the race.
The RGA has already spent $1 million on the race, airing attack ads against Edwards that tie him to President Obama. The senator’s biggest concern is improving his standing with female voters, who have drifted away from his campaign amid the negative publicity.
Vitter heads into the runoff with more money to spend than Edwards. In the most recent round of fundraising reports filed in mid-October, Vitter reported over $1.4 million cash on hand in his campaign account, and a pro-Vitter super PAC, the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, reported $1.5 million remaining. Edwards had $1.2 million in the bank in his last report, and a supporting super PAC reported over $375,000 on hand.
Two additional PACs dedicated to attacking Vitter ahead of the primary—Gumbo PAC and the Louisiana Water Coalition—haven’t said if they plan to stay involved in a runoff.