By Robert Mann
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ victory over U.S. Sen. David Vitter in last year’s governor’s race gives hope to Democrats across Louisiana. If a little-known Democratic state representative could knock off a well-financed two-term incumbent Republican, why shouldn’t Democrats also have a legitimate shot at Vitter’s Senate seat this November?
Vitter is not running for re-election and Democrats have proven, against the odds, that they can compete in one of the reddest of red states. Even better, this time Republicans are dividing their loyalties among five major candidates, while Democrats have known quantities in Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and attorney and business executive Caroline Fayard.
Campbell served 26 years in the state Senate. Fayard lost a 2010 runoff for lieutenant governor to Republican Jay Dardenne, who is now Edwards’ commissioner of administration. Campbell seems to have an edge, having earned Edwards’ strong endorsement earlier this year.
So, the stars are aligned for a competitive race that a Democrat could win? Well, not so fast.
I’m the first to admit I unwisely discounted Edwards’ chances against Vitter. Louisiana voters had not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2008 and there was little I saw to indicate they would suddenly change their behavior.
What I overlooked was that after eight years of Bobby Jindal’s misrule, voters ached for change. No ally of Jindal, Vitter should have been that change – except that Edwards and his allies transformed the race into a referendum on the morally challenged Republican. He went down in a landslide, sunk by voters who were turned off by his 2007 prostitution scandal.
This time, however, the contours of the race are vastly different, meaning that capturing the Senate seat should be far more daunting for a Democrat than was the work of beating Vitter.
While not impossible, it will be difficult to make this race a referendum on personalities. Unlike the 2015 governor’s race, the Louisiana Senate election occurs in conjunction with the presidential election, during which ideology and party identification are almost always at the forefront of voters’ minds. (It is worth noting that Vitter won reelection in 2010, a mere three years after his prostitution scandal, precisely because ideology, not personality, defined his reelection campaign.)
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