In response to a very detailed and sensational article he wrote on Sunday appearing in the newspaper, I interviewed him via Google Hangout today to provide details from that article and to discuss other related issues.
As we know, Democrat Jon Bel Edwards pulled the surprise of political surprises by beating long-time political powerhouse Republican US Senator David Vitter in an election that most political pundits and observers felt was nearly impossible for him to lose.
But he did.
So, how did it happen?
Here is part one of a multi-part interview with Bridges in which he discusses the background politics of the Edwards shocking victory, that not only put a small Democratic Party island on the map of Republican sea of red in the Deep South, but, has shifted the power structure at the state capitol into the hands of Democrats, at least in part, for the next four years.
SABLUDOWSKY: We're you surprised at the outcome?
BRIDGES: Well six months ago if you had asked me I would have guessed probably like everybody else that David Vitter was going to be the victor but in the few days before the election if you would have asked me, I would have predicted, based upon what the the polls showed that John Bel was going to be the winner
SABLUDOWSKY:So why don't you to take us through, if your don't mind, what i would like to do, sort of a history of what happened, from your perspective. So when you first get involved with the election?
BRIDGES:Well I covered the legislative session for the Advocate, and that was not directly covering the governor's race, but there was sort of something that you kept an eye on, the race did not really get going--really until qualifying I would say until early September--by then Scott Angelle had begun making a run. He had broadcast some early commercials to try to tell contributors and the political elite that he was a serious candidate and had some success in doing that. By then, Jay Dardenne had entered the race as the Lt. Gov. and by then, John Bel Edwards had been running for two years, more, and of course Vitter had announced very early was seen as the prohibitive favorite by the time of qualifying again in September
SABLUDOWSKY:Now you actually wrote what I consider to be a terrific article that I read I think it was Sunday, that was on the Advocate and that I certainly would recommend that everybody read and so, you talk about the early days that John Bell Edwards was involved in talking about running--why don't you take us through that
BRIDGES:Sure, the origins of this year's governor's race or the 2011 legislative election--you might remember, there wasn't much of a governor's race, Bobby Jindal was too strong politically-- so the Democratic Party didn't even mount the serious campaign against him, but at the same time, the Republicans were trying to extend their majority particularly in the state house--had a very strong majority in taking on a bunch of white conservative democrats in white majority districts and John Bel Edwards led the efforts to stop them, was very successful and I don't think that Republicans were able to knock out any of those conservative white Democrats in the house and that was a lesson that John Bel Edwards, told me later, that you can beat Republicans with a very focused message with the right candidate. And that Edwards eventually decided in January 2013 and that's how I began the article that you refer to Steve by saying, I don't think that I can achieve that much here in the House anymore, I'm too frustrated with Bobby Jindal as governor, I've got to go big or go home--he said that to State Representative Sam Jones, the seat mate, and friend in January of 2013. And then a month later he was on Jim Engster's radio show and Jim caught Edwards by surprise by asking--"are you going to run for governor"? And Edwards told me afterwards, that he had not really expected that question although it's a little surprising--and that's probably due to his inexperience as a candidate--and there was a split second in his mind where he was asking himself whether he should be like a typical politician and say, I'm considering it, I'm looking at it, but he thought to himself, "you know, I've been telling people that I'm planning o run, so, why don't I just say it". So he gave the honest answer--"yeah, I do intend to run for governor". And that caught a small number of people that he'd been telling by surprise because he had been planning to have a big press conference announcement after the legislative ended in 2013 and maximize the press. He didn't do that because of what he blurted out that day on February 2013 on Engster show and that was kind of a fumbled beginning, and that made an already difficult campaign, really nearly impossible.
SABLUDOWSKY:You saying, nearly impossible for him?
BRIDGES:For John Bel Edwards, Vitter was seen as too strong-- if it wasn't going to be Vitter, certainly another Republican--Democrats, haven't had a good history, as you know, in Louisiana in recent years, a deep red state, so a democratic state representative not known, could be the next governor very few people had given him the chance
SABLUDOWSKY:At that time, were there any other candidates seriously considering running, I don't think so, but your recollection?
BRIDGES:At that point, there were some names the surface, Jim Bernhardt the former owner of Shaw, certainly looked at it. The owner of the Advocate newspaper John Georges, floated with the idea and I think right up to the end, former general Honoré, I think he looked at it. And, of course the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, who would've been the biggest Democrat to get into the race and I think it's funny enough that the weakness that Jon Bel had are the Democrats had of winning--the perceived weakness---ended up being a strength of his because he was on Democrat who got into the race and that was a key for his strategy. And that was key, for example for Jay Dardenne strategy--was to have two Democrats, split the Democratic vote and allow him to get into the runoff with Vitter and defeat Vitter.
SABLUDOWSKY:Did Dardenne expect Angelle to jump in, do you know?
BRIDGES:What was the question?
SABLUDOWSKY: Did Jay Dardenne expect Angelle to jump in--I know there was talk about John Kennedy, but do you know whether or not he expected Scott Angelle to jump in--who actually did better than Dardenne did
BRIDGES:I don't think if he expected specifically Scott Angelle to jump in but I think he thought another fairly big name Republican would get in, no matter what