A distinct fissure has developed among Republicans in Louisiana, where U.S. Senator David Vitter is facing a November 21 runoff elections against state Rep. John Bel Edwards. The two emerged from a crowded field in an October 24 primary election in the Land of Fais Do-Do. In the primary, Edwards was the only Democrat running the race. He received 40 percent of the votes cast, while Vitter was a distant second at 23 percent. The two also-ran Republicans - Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne -- were not able to put together coalitions strong enough to overcome Vitter’s appeal to conservatives in a conservative state. Dardenne finished last. While Vitter is popular among those in his so-called "super Republican" base, some polls show that he has significantly high "high negatives" among other voters.
Vitter has a history that may affect his chances of winning the gubernatorial seat. In 2007, his name came up on a list of alleged clients of a Washington D.C. businesswoman who had been convicted on prostitution charges. After considerable controversy, Vitter stood next to his wife at a press conference and took responsibility for his “sin”, asking for forgiveness. Most recently, another bimbo eruption marred the campaign when a woman who claimed to have been Vitter’s mistress asserted that he had demanded that she abort her child. Vitter is a Catholic and prolife. He denied the allegation in October of this year.
Another wrinkle in the campaign came when Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Republican, endorsed Edwards. Dardenne, speaking at the announcement of the move, was scathing in his condemnation of Republicans. He said, "The Republican brand has been damaged by the failed leadership of (Governor) Bobby Jindal during this last term. David Vitter's governorship will further damage that brand as I and others have pointed out during the campaign. I cannot and will not sit idly by and refuse to speak truth to power."
A comment at the leftist Daily Kos, which is edited by Markos Moulitsas, opined on Dardenne’s betrayal of the GOP. “Obviously this is a guy who doesn't care about his electoral future, because he just signed his political death warrant by unleashing cannon fire on his own party. But Dardenne is not alone in his hostility toward Vitter, who attacked him relentlessly during the primary.” DailyKos also noted that Public Service Commissioner Angelle, who finished third in October, also refused to back his party’s candidate.
Triumph Campaigns – a Republican polling organization – released a survey on November 5 that showed that support for Edwards surpasses that for Vitter, 49-41. In the lieutenant-governor race, Republican Billy Nungesser leads Democrat Kip Holden, 49-38. Other surveys have put Holden on top, but Triumph's numbers seem a lot more plausible, thus lending further credence to their gubernatorial results.
In late October, three polls showed that Vitter’s campaign was flagging after the primary. A poll conducted by Market Research Insight pollster Verne Kennedy found that Edwards was leading Vitter 54 percent to 38 percent, or 51 percent to 40 percent, according to the level of Election Day turnout among African-Americans (25 percent or 20 percent, respectively). Later, Baton Rouge WVLA-TV released a poll by JMC Analytics that showed Edwards at 52 percent over Vitter’s 32 percent. Then, Gumbo-Pac – which is decidedly against Vitter – released a poll that was done by Obama-pollster Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, that showed Edwards besting Vitter 52 percent to 40 percent.
Writing at NOLA.com, Robert Mann declared the current race is a referendum on Vitter's performance while he also noted that the popularity of the incumbent governor, Republican Bobby Jindal, has plummeted as well. Mann wrote:
"People seem to care more about who they put into the Governor's Mansion than who they send to Washington. They don't live with their congressional representative in the same way as an ever-present governor. In the post-Edwin Edwards era, perhaps voters care more about the character of those running for governor."
Edwin Edwards was a colorful governor during the 1980s and 90s who subsequently spent time in prison on racketeering charges. Current gubernatorial frontrunner John Bel Edwards is not related, but his father served in the former Governor Edwards administration.