Even with a low turnout in Democratic precincts, Edwards was able to amass an impressive number of votes in the primary election. While he was attacked by the Republican Governor’s Association in a television commercial, Edwards was not targeted by the Vitter campaign, which focused exclusively on Republican opponents Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. Thus, Edwards moved into the run-off practically unscathed, a status that changed almost immediately after the primary election ended. The Vitter campaign started airing campaign commercials linking Edwards to President Obama, a theme that will be repeated throughout the run-off election.
As in the primary election, Vitter will have a massive financial advantage over Edwards in the run-off. In just a few days since Saturday’s election, Vitter has already raised an additional $1 million for his campaign. Due to this impressive fundraising prowess and his statewide name recognition as a U.S. Senator, Vitter was named the easy winner of the election by a host of so-called experts just a few weeks ago.
Today, it is a much different scenario and most analysts expect a very close run-off election. In fact, this Governor’s race may result in the closest margin the state has experienced since the David Treen vs. Louis Lambert general election showdown in 1979.
How did a cakewalk turn into a competitive election? Vitter did poorly on Saturday even though his campaign and PAC spending dwarfed all of his opponents. His vote total was only slightly better than Angelle, his nearest GOP opponent.
While Vitter made the run-off, he was exposed as a fairly weak candidate. Throughout the campaign, and especially in the last week, he was hounded by a salacious story that would not fade; his prostitution scandal. It was mentioned repeatedly by his opponents and Jason Berry, of the American Zombie website, uncovered new information that gave more momentum to the story in the final week of the campaign.
The prostitution scandal has persisted for so many years because Vitter has refused to answer questions about the story, other than to say he committed a very “serious sin.” While his phone number was listed on the call records of the D.C. Madam, he denied utilizing the services of a prostitute in New Orleans. This claim has been contradicted by Jeanette Maier, the Canal Street Madam, Wendy Ellis, aka Wendy Cortez, a former prostitute and stripper and “Vanna” a friend of Wendy Ellis, who was interviewed by Berry. It was also contradicted by a barber interviewed by Gambit who claims he often saw Vitter visiting a house of prostitution in the French Quarter.
Vitter was also sidetracked by a last minute story involving the activities of an investigator working for an agency hired by his campaign. The investigator was caught trying to record the conversations of Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, LA State Senator Danny Martiny and three other individuals at a Metairie coffee shop. Once confronted, the investigator fled the scene and was eventually arrested for trespassing on private property. His recording activities are being investigated as well and could result in additional charges. In response, Vitter called the whole story “silly” and said he would not be diverted by such “BS.”
The ultimate impact of all of this remains to be seen, but it is clear that Vitter is in for the fight of his political career in the run-off election. His vulnerabilities have given John Bel Edwards a chance to win the election onNovember 21. If Edwards had to face a run-off campaign against Angelle, Dardenne or State Treasurer John Kennedy, who decided to run for re-election, his chances of victory would be much worse.
In this race, Edwards has the advantage of facing not only a vulnerable Republican opponent, but a very divisive one as well. Among many Louisiana Republican Party activists and elected officials, Vitter is not liked and several prominent ones may even endorse Edwards in the run-off.
Next to David Duke, Vitter is possibly the weakest candidate to represent the party in the run-off election. As a red state composed of mostly conservative voters, Louisiana should be expected to elect a Republican as Governor once again this year. However, with Republican David Vitter in the run-off, the outcome of the election is anything but certain.