Screenshot of state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Sen. David Vitter on the Oct. 1 televised debate, hosted by WDSU-TV in New Orleans.
Screenshot of state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Sen. David Vitter on the Oct. 1 televised debate, hosted by WDSU-TV in New Orleans.

By Robert Mann

The best I can say in my defense is, as St. Paul wrote, “we see through a glass, darkly.” Several months ago, looking through that dark glass, I could not see a path for Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) in this year’s Louisiana governor’s race. I wrote in May:

A Democrat – even one as effective, honest and politically moderate as Edwards – cannot win a Louisiana statewide election. Twenty years ago, someone like Edwards would have been unbeatable. Today, however, a vote for the Amite Democrat is, for all practical purposes, a vote for Vitter.

Now, after Saturday night’s election returns are in, I’ll say it: I was wrong. Edwards now has a clear, plausible path to victory over his runoff opponent, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

I’m not prepared to say that Edwards will be Louisiana’s next governor (let’s see a poll in about ten days, after Vitter, his super PAC and the Republican Governors’ Association dump a million or two in negative spots on him). But as of Sunday night, it is not hard to see how Edwards can defeat Vitter.

Here’s why I now believe Edwards can win:

Vitter is crippled, perhaps mortally. When I wrote my column in May, Vitter had a commanding lead in the polls — 38 percent to Edwards 25 percent. He was moving up, not down.

On Saturday night, those numbers were almost exactly reversed. Consider this: An incumbent United States senator, with more financial resources than all his opponents combined, limped into the runoff with pitiful 23 percent of the vote. The majority of Republican voters went against the man, just weeks ago, who most considered the prohibitive favorite to become Louisiana’s next governor.


Saturday’s election was, simply, a stunning reversal in Vitter’s fortunes.

Given the various scandals that began to emerge days before the voting, it is possible that if the election had been held one week later, Vitter would not have made the runoff.

Edwards may be a Democrat, but he is not Mary Landrieu. It will not be that easy to paint Edwards as a close ally and supporter of Barack Obama. Edwards has never served in Washington, D.C. He is a “pro-life” NRA member who opposes Common Core. Most important, Edwards is a West Point graduate who served eight years as a U.S. Army ranger.

Vitter will try to paint Edwards as Barack Obama’s half-brother. “John Bel Edwards is not a casual supporter of Barack Obama,” Vitter said on election night. “He is a true believer.” Good luck with that. Edwards showed how his sterling West Point record might help him in the runoff when he said in his election night speech, referring to the honor code at his alma mater, “David Vitter wouldn’t last five minutes at West Point.”

Remember, Edwards has already endured several weeks, and almost a million dollars in attacks spots, by the Republican Governor’s Association. And, yet, he earned an impressive 40 percent of the vote on Saturday. Attacking Edwards as an Obama clone may not be as potent an attack against Edwards as it was against Mary Landrieu.

They won’t endorse Edwards, but Republicans Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne will likely not endorse Vitter. The perception that Republicans are not united (and they will not be) will hurt Vitter. More than that, Edwards may not have a difficult time picking up the votes he needs from the anti-Vitter GOP vote.

Edwards only needs about 25 percent to 30 percent of the non-Vitter Republican vote — and less, if substantial numbers of disaffected Republicans refuse to vote at all (or if Edwards substantially increases his black vote on Nov. 21).

A certain percentage (maybe 5 points) of Angelle’s and Dardenne’s combined 34 percent were likely Democrats who voted for one of the two Republicans for various reasons (Baton Rouge-area or Acadiana residents who voted for the home boy). Those Dardenne-Democrats or Angelle-Democrats will come home on Election Day without much effort.

Edwards will have to work to persuade the others to vote for him, but they have already voted against Vitter once. It is not difficult to see how Edwards could peel off a mere 25 percent of the remaining non-Vitter vote by appealing to their disgust or disenchantment with Vitter.


Looking at it another way, it’s not likely that Edwards will do any worse in the runoff than Sen. Mary Landrieu did last November (she earned 44 percent of the vote against Sen. Bill Cassidy in an election which saw a 44 percent statewide turnout, compared to 38.5 percent on Saturday).

Edwards should start this runoff with a floor of about 43 percent or 44 percent of the vote, maybe a point higher. That means he must pick up only an additional 6 or 7 percentage points from the combined 34 percent of Angelle and Dardenne (I’m already giving him about 4 points of that vote, i.e, the Democrats who supported the two other Republicans). If a fourth to a third of Angelle and Dardenne voters are truly unwilling to vote for Vitter (a not-unreasonable assumption), Edwards may have all the votes he needs.

All of this assumes that both campaigns will have GOTV efforts of equal effectiveness on Nov. 21. If Edwards, however, finds a way to substantially energize the black vote, he will not need as many former Dardenne-Angelle voters. Vitter might help him in that respect. Enduring relentless attacks about his alleged association with Obama might be just what Edwards needs to motivate the black vote.

Dardenne may not endorse Edwards, but his (and Angelle’s attacks on Vitter) will live on. Just imagine what the Edwards’ campaign can do with this powerful video, released on Saturday by the Dardenne campaign.

More Vitter scandals to come? The bizarre arrest on Friday of a private investigator, hired by Vitter’s campaign, who was apparently spying on Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand came too late to have any significant impact on voting. It remains to be seen how this story plays out in the coming days, but if it blossoms into a full-blown scandal, Vitter’s campaign could be seriously wounded.

And who knows what the super PACs opposing Vitter have been keeping on ice for the runoff? Whatever the case, you can bet that Vitter’s 2007 prostitution scandal, and more recent allegations by a former New Orleans prostitute, will be widely advertised in the coming weeks.

Now a few caveats:

Edwards must increase his black vote over the Oct. 24 primary. For example, the turnout in Orleans Parish was a pathetic 32 percent. He must do better.

Vitter will have all the money he needs and more. Vitter and his allies will attack Edwards relentlessly and may have more money for their messages than Edwards. And Vitter has proven repeatedly he can win elections and, when cornered by scandal, can make the election, not a referendum on him, but on someone else (see what he did to Charlie Melancon in 2010).

A Democrat has not won statewide office in Louisiana since 2008. There are more than 225,000 fewer white Democrats on the voting rolls in Louisiana since 2004. Edwards must win about 27 percent to 30 percent of the state’s white vote to win this election (depending on the rate of the black turnout). Mary Landrieu received about 18 percent of that vote last year. Edwards must outperform Landrieu with white votes by a large margin.

All in all, I believe that if you could choose which candidate you’d rather be on Nov. 21, today you’d want to be John Bel Edwards. That could change, of course. A month is a lifetime in politics.

But the election results don’t lie and they are unambiguous and clear: John Bel Edwards can beat David Vitter to become Louisiana’s next governor.

Note:  In the original version of this post, I wrote:

Edwards may be a Democrat, but he is not Mary Landrieu. It will not be that easy to paint Edwards as a close ally and supporter of Barack Obama. Edwards has never served in Washington, D.C. He is a “pro-choice” NRA member who opposes Common Core. Most important, Edwards is a West Point graduate who served eight years as a U.S. Army ranger.

Of course, Edwards is “pro-life.”

I regret the error.

15 thoughts on “I was wrong: John Bel Edwards can win the Louisiana governor’s race

  1. The Democratic Governor’s Association has stated they will be sending staff to Edwards to help him. That’s a sign that they believe he can pull it off. However, they need to tell those staff members to bring checks also.

    Also, Edwards needs to have some of the black Democratic state leaders to either go out and campaign with him or go into the black communities and campaign for him.


  2. I don’t think John Bel Edwards will have to depend only on bringing out Democrats who didn’t vote in this past weekend’s election. I think he will get a significant number of disaffected Republicans, people who voted for either Angelle or Dardenne or didn’t vote at all in this election because they would not vote for Vitter and because they resent state party leadership’s cavalier attitude to their grass-roots constituency. Ordinary conservative Republicans have much more in common with Edwards than with Vitter, and they are disgusted with the the Louisiana Republican Party’s lack of interest in their concerns in recent years. Edwards got some of those votes last Saturday. He will get many more in the runoff. So long as National Democrats don’t rush in and make the election about national parties and if Mr. Edwards asks voters to rise above party labels in the interest of the state, he ought to win. Otherwise, many will just sit the election out.

    The NYTimes quoted some sage from Winnsboro to the point that Louisianians think of governor in an entirely different way from the way they think of folks they send to D.C. Given the choice between a West Point Graduate, an Army Ranger, and a reasonably likeable man of seeming sound integrity and David Vitter, what’s to choose in Louisiana?— unless the Democratic Party succeeds in making it a party contest.


  3. I hope Edwards will get out and campaign in some of the NW LA parishes that usually vote Republican. I live in Sabine Parish and voted for Edwards, but never saw one political sign with his name on it and when I requested a bumper sticker from his campaign, did not receive one. I suspect he would do better if he got his name out along highways across the state as a whole.

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  4. If Vitter hadn’t had to follow Jindal, he would have had a better chance. Jindal makes Rep look like ogres. Not that I would vote for either immoral Vitter or “feed-corporate-greed” Jindal.


    1. I don’t think Jindal had anything much to do with Vitter’s showing among Republican and Independent voters. I voted for Jindal initially because I knew he had the skills needed to clean up the mess left by Blanco & Co after Katrina. He was efficient, pro-active, and positive. The state needed that. His work in the ensuing two hurricanes was exemplary. He took some bold, positive moves in education in N.O. and elsewhere. He was a welcome relief from the silliness and vacillation of the preceding administration. Then he ran away from home and dreamed he was a leader, not a manager.

      On the other hand, a sizable part of the Republican electorate north of the New Orleans area always held its nose when voting for Vitter. In D.C. he represented general conservative interests more or less decently. But it’s one thing to have the pigpen a thousand miles away from Louisiana and another to have it in Baton Rouge. Rather than cleaning up his personal life, he continued his indiscretions and daily looked more like Uriah Heep in his unctuous and hollow moralizing. He had neither management nor leadership skills, was an insult to the state. Blame Jindal for many things, but not Vitter. Vitter has always been his own worst enemy.


      1. While it is clear that jindal was a successful Conservative Governor, getting many ALEC/Conservative programs/policies implemented, it is also clear that those changes have been disastrous for the state. The simplest measure of the failure of Conservative policies the $1.6 billion deficit in the state budget. The same failure is evident in several other states with Conservative Governors and legislatures.

        While there are many examples, the refusal of Medicaid expansion is the single most significant example of the economic and moral failure of the Conservative policies.

        The Conservative policies may sound good, but they don’t work in the real world. They benefit the Oligarchs and push the middle class toward poverty. If you are not one of the 1%, a vote for a Conservative, at any level of government, is a vote against you own self interest. Saying the same thing focused on our legislature: Don’t vote for any candidate who supported the jindal programs.


      2. “Conservative” covers a lot of territory these days. Historically, the conservative has a great respect for tradition and history as sources of knowledge and perspective; he is practical and wants to see some evidence before he proposes or supports anything. This is opposed to the self-described Liberals and Progressives, who hold a greater respect for theory and what-might-be. The conservative believes man is naturally flawed and can’t be perfected merely through environment. The romantic Liberals and Progressives think politics can create an environment that will change man’s nature. Basically Aristotle v Plato in different garments.

        So just because Governor Jindal claims to be “conservative” doesn’t mean he is. He certainly was not a good Conservative governor. His lack of respect for the humanities and the arts, for instance, was shameful and doesn’t suggest much respect for vital traditions. The same is true for funding of higher education. I think he lacked the coherent worldview that is required of a leader. He was more the mechanic. The person we saw as governor was the same person we in education first saw when he served the state college board—-he was an efficiency expert. Efficiency experts know how to cut, but they lack the vision to create. It’s all about numbers and bottom lines. They are limited and often are egoists. James Thurber has a wonderful story about such a person that can be read online—-“The Catbird Seat.” It’s about what happens when an efficiency expert meets a conservative.


  5. Dardenne voter here. Not happy with Vitter vs. JBE. But I am voting for JBE. Reason: there is no way the Legislature will go along with his policies and in four years we can either elect Dardenne (who I know says he is done) or Angelle. The more liberal Vitter says JBE is, the better … no chance it passes a conservative Legislature. Four years of JBE or eight of Vitter (Republican govs seem to get re-elected)? The choice is clear for me.


  6. Bob,

    While I have been a fan of yours for many years and mostly agree with you on many accounts, I have to take a bit of exception with this address as well as I do with the one that you wrote in May. The bottom line of this election is that the people of Louisiana are recognizing how unique a person that John Bel Edwards it. And, with that recognition comes the gravitation toward our better angels in deciding on what is best for our state, rather than choosing to vote along party lines. The more people get to know JBE, the more they trust their instincts that he is the right guy for us now.

    This is why I will go out on the limb and say YES HE WILL be our next governor. The dark forces that gather round trying to rule our lower nature with fear and lies will be wiped away November 21st. JBE, as you so aptly point out is not Mary Landrieu. Furthermore, he is not Edwin Edwards, Mike Foster, Buddy Roemer nor is he Bobby Jindal. John Bel Edwards’ character and record is beyond reproach, regardless of how much money Darth Vitter and his followers throw at it. John Bel is his own man, has his own integrity and honor code. This is what Louisiana is so starved for NOW after suffering 8 years of the Jindal famine. John Bel breathes new life and fresh ideas that are true, thus making his candidacy difficult to effectively attack. Attack they will, but they better be ready for a fiery response from this Ranger.

    Darth Vitter would be wise to hold on to his millions for the senate race of his life. For if he does not, by the end of 2016, he will be knocking on the doors of the wealthy Wall Street Corporate backers that he has been legislating for during his entire political career for a new lobbying job.

    Bob, do not let that colossal error of prediction in May cloud once again that glass of yours by sitting on the fence this general election. You are better than that. A smart guy like you does not need to wait on the polls to steer your prediction. Any commentator can do that. 🙂


  7. Be ready for medicaid to be expanded under John Bel and the taxes that come along with it. As far as Dardenne, I could never vote for such a cry baby as he and Angel were. Oh, and he said that he wouldn’t lie. Bull, everyone lies and are sinners. He will lie. Just because he is a west point graduate doesn’t mean he’s above board.


    1. I’ve known a number of West Point graduates in my life and eight or ten Rangers, and as a group they are the most principled people I think I’ve met. Graduating from West Point will not render a man pure, but it will teach him to make principled decisions based on goals and to develop efficient means to implement those decisions. Obviously Mr. Edwards has learned to adapt those skills to civilian life in Louisiana: his strong opposition to important and, I believe, much-needed tort reform shows the influence of his civilian profession and the power of the Trial Lawyers Assn can lead him to decisions that might not be high-minded. But that does not mean he’s a liar. You seem not to have had the good fortune to live among honest people. They exist.


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