State Rep. John Bel Edwards trounced Republican Sen. David Vitter at the polls on Saturday in an astounding political upset that saw a relatively unknown Democrat beat a man who was once seen as a shoo-in for the job. And it wasn’t even close. Edwards had a 12-percentage-point advantage over Vitter, who quickly announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the Senate in 2016. Edwards thus becomes the first Democrat to be elected to statewide office in Louisiana since 2008 and the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.
It once seemed so unlikely that a Democrat would be able to win the election that several big names in the party “[chose] not to run for higher office this election cycle because their prospects of winning looked so weak,” notes the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Edwards, who often took pains to emphasize his record as a pro-gun-rights, anti-abortion legislator, proved them wrong and pulled off “one of the biggest political upsets in the state’s history.”
It wasn’t just his positions or his credentials as a West Point graduate that seemed to attract voters; it also helped that Edwards “was running against one of the most seriously flawed candidates it’s possible to imagine,” as the Washington Post’s Philip Bump puts it. Edwards’ campaign wasn’t shy about often reminding voters of Vitter’s ties to a prostitution scandal in 2007, when phone records linked him to Washington’s “D.C. Madam.” Edwards, in contrast, repeatedly talked about how he would be faithful to his state and his wife. And Edwards also did his best to tie Vitter to Bobby Jindal, the unpopular outgoing governor.
“This election shows us that the people of Louisiana in a time of deep cynicism about our politics, and also about our future, that the people have chosen hope over scorn, over negativity,” Edwards said last night. “I did not create this breeze of hope that’s rolling across our beautiful and blessed state. But I did catch it.”
Republicans immediately tried to play down the loss as an isolated event. “Make no mistake, Louisiana is a deep red state and our Republican brand is strong,” Republican Party of Louisiana Chairman Roger Villere said in a statement. “Despite a disappointing result in the gubernatorial race, we’re confident that our Republican Legislature and activists across the state will hold Governor-elect Edwards accountable.”