Louisiana voters elected a Democrat as the state’s next governor, with John Bel Edwards defeating Republican Sen. David Vitter in an election defined by nasty personal attacks and the senator’s past scandal. Edwards led Vitter, 55 to 45 percent, with 97 percent of precincts reporting. After the defeat, Vitter announced he will be retiring from the Senate as well.
Despite the state’s conservative tilt, Vitter never led Edwards, a pro-life, pro-gun state representative, in a single public poll. Vitter’s vulnerability stemmed from political opponents digging up his 2007 prostitution scandal that became a major theme for the Democratic governor-elect’s campaign. In the race’s final week, Vitter attempted to use the issue of Syrian refugees as a last-ditch attack against Edwards, but it didn’t work.
Vitter’s image was battered by attack ads from outside groups that used Vitter’s scandal to question his judgment, trustworthiness, and ethical mores. One Edwards ad was used demonstrate that his “extracurricular activities,” as Edwards called them, interfered with his work. The one TV ad that Edwards ran on the topic in the runoff accused Vitter of skipping votes in Congress to take calls from an escort service—a charge that Vitter never denied.
“The Louisiana results today prove that strong Democratic gubernatorial candidates can win races anywhere in the country—in red, purple, or blue states,” said DGA chairman Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana. “When pundits said the race was ‘impossible’ and a ‘coronation,’ John Bel kept fighting every day. We congratulate John Bel Edwards on his upset victory tonight.”
Vitter’s landslide defeat is a stunner for Republicans, who expected the state’s Republican electorate to overcome any personal weaknesses that the senator brought into the race. Even many Louisiana Democrats initially believed Vitter was unbeatable as a sitting senator running in one of the most conservative states in the country. However, Edwards and a close team of supporters, including former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, saw an early path for Edwards that involved playing up his military background as a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger and using that to draw a contrast with Vitter from an ethical standpoint.
Vitter spent the final week of the race focusing on issues designed to fire up the most conservative voters—particularly the renewed threat of terrorism after the ISIS-sponsored attacks in Paris last Friday. Vitter relentlessly accused Edwards of supporting the relocation of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war into Louisiana, and used the issue to tie Edwards to President Obama—even though Edwards publicly opposed such a measure. Vitter’s aggressive attempts to focus attention on this in the final week wasn’t enough to overcome his broader character problems.
In his concession speech, Vitter announced he wouldn’t be seeking a third term for the Senate—a conclusion that many of his GOP colleagues pressured him to reach, assuming he lost the governor’s race. Vitter previously announced that he would limit himself to two Senate terms. Several Republicans made moves this year to set themselves up as potential Senate candidates assuming Vitter would win the governorship—including state Treasurer John Kennedy, Reps. Charles Boustany and John Fleming, and 2014 U.S. Senate candidate Rob Maness. Those close to Scott Angelle say the public service commissioner is potentially interested, as well.
There hasn’t been a Democratic governor in the deep South since 2008, when Blanco left office after losing reelection. Neighboring Arkansas had a Democratic governor until 2014, when term-limited Gov. Mike Beebe retired and Democrats failed to hold the seat.
Edwards’s win is also welcome news nationally for Democrats, who have struggled to win governorships in recent years at a rate not seen since the early 1900s. Even Hillary Clinton chimed in with a congratulatory note to Edwards. “John Bel’s experience as a soldier, veteran, small-business owner, and state legislator will serve Louisianans well, and his platform —including getting runaway higher-education costs under control and expanding Medicaid for thousands of families—is the right one for Louisiana’s future,” Clinton said.
Among the nation’s 50 governors, there are now 18 Democrats, 31 Republicans, and one independent.
What We're Following See More »
"Saudi Arabia said Saturday that Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist who disappeared more than two weeks ago, had died after an argument and fistfight with unidentified men inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Eighteen men have been arrested and are being investigated in the case, Saudi state-run media reported without identifying any of them. State media also reported that Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy director of Saudi intelligence, and other high-ranking intelligence officials had been dismissed."
"Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is scrutinizing how a collection of activists and pundits intersected with WikiLeaks, the website that U.S. officials say was the primary conduit for publishing materials stolen by Russia, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s team has recently questioned witnesses about the activities of longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone, including his contacts with WikiLeaks, and has obtained telephone records, according to the people familiar with the matter."
"Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections ... Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice." Mueller has faced pressure to wrap up the investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said an official, who would receive the results of the investigation and have "some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released," if he remains at his post.
"The Justice Department on Friday charged a Russian woman for her alleged role in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2018 U.S. election, marking the first criminal case prosecutors have brought against a foreign national for interfering in the upcoming midterms. Elena Khusyaynova, 44, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors said she managed the finances of 'Project Lakhta,' a foreign influence operation they said was designed 'to sow discord in the U.S. political system' by pushing arguments and misinformation online about a host of divisive political issues, including immigration, the Confederate flag, gun control and the National Football League national-anthem protests."