Nov. 24, 2015 — As a myriad of Louisiana gubernatorial polls correctly predicted, state Rep. John Bel Edwards (D) scored a landslide 56-44 percent victory over Sen. David Vitter (R) Saturday night. The result proved a bitter defeat for the Republican after he was cast as a prohibitive favorite when the campaign began.
In his concession speech, the senator confirmed that he will not seek re-election in the 2016 cycle, yielding the sixth open seat US Senate campaign for next year. There was strong speculation when the governor’s campaign began to turn against Vitter that the politically damaged senator would be highly vulnerable if he were to seek a third term after experiencing what would be a crushing defeat. Though the Republicans will now be forced to risk an open seat it is preferable to defending a wounded incumbent.
Saturday’s result was clearly a rejection of Vitter and not necessarily the Republican Party. Despite the Democrats winning at the top of the ticket, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Billy Nungesser, the Plaquemines parish president, recorded his own strong 55-45 percent victory margin against Democratic nominee Kip Holden.
In the double-Republican attorney general’s race, former US Rep. Jeff Landry (R-LA-3) unseated incumbent Buddy Caldwell with a similar 55-45 percent spread after strategically positioning himself as the more conservative candidate.
Vitter could not overcome three major problems. First was the revival of his 2007 prostitution scandal, despite eight years passing before he would suffer politically. Second, the outgoing Bobby Jindal (R) administration is turning woefully unpopular, to the point that both major party candidates were attempting to run against the Republican governor and now-former presidential candidate’s policies. Third, is the distrust voters seemingly have of anything or anyone associated with Washington, and that, too, cut against Vitter’s gubernatorial drive.
Edwards took 39 of the state’s 64 parishes, gaining the upper hand with his hard-hitting advertising against Vitter – two Super PACs reinforced the attacks with their own multi-million dollar expenditures –- thereby cementing the senator’s negative image among voters. Vitter’s fate appeared sealed as early as the jungle primary election when he could only attract 23 percent in a field of four major candidates, barely qualifying for second place and advancement into the general election. When three quarters of the electorate supports someone other than the race favorite, it becomes a difficult task to win the subsequent one-on-one run-off contest.
Turnout appeared to be about average. Just under 40 percent (39.7) of the state’s 2.9 million registered voters participated in the odd-year statewide general election. The 1,152,789 votes cast exceeds the total when Gov. Jindal won re-election in 2011 (130,350 more voters in 2015, to be exact), but less than in 2007 when the governorship was last open (145,154 more people voted eight years ago). A total of 266,939 individuals took advantage of the early voting procedure, some 23.1 percent of the total vote. Of those casting their ballots before Saturday, Edwards carried 59.3 percent support compared to attracting 55.1 percent among those voting on Election Day.
An open Louisiana Senate seat is likely to attract a large candidate field. When it appeared that Vitter would win the race and therefore appoint his own successor, at least three major Louisiana politicos expressed interest in being considered for the appointment and eventually running for the post: state treasurer and former Senate candidate John Kennedy (R), and representatives Charles Boustany (R-LA-3) and John Fleming (R-LA-4). New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s name often surfaces as a potential Democratic candidate. Without Vitter’s negatives, Republicans will begin the Senate contest as the favorites to hold.
Seeing the Democrats converting Louisiana and the Republicans picking up Kentucky in early November, means the partisan division among governors remains constant: 31R-18D-1I.