Louisiana’s GOP Lt. Gov. Endorses Democratic Candidate For Governor Over David Vitter
Well this could be a game changer.
As is normally the case, Louisiana’s state elections aren’t following the same calendar that the rest of the country does. Instead, the state had its open primary on January 24th which resulted in Democrat John Bel Edwards, a member of the state’s House of Representatives, and Republican Senator David Vitter earning the most votes and the right to face each other in the runoff election that will take place on November 21st. Today, that runoff race took an interesting turn when Louisiana’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardeene, who had been one of the Republican candidates in teh “jungle primary” and ended up coming in fourth, endorsed Edwards rather than his party’s nominee:
Senator David Vitter has had a rougher road to the Louisiana governor’s office than he or most anyone expected, and on Thursday it got a little bit rougher. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, one of Mr. Vitter’s Republican rivals in the primary, endorsed the Democrat in the runoff election, State Representative John Bel Edwards.
“When are we as Louisianans going to stop tolerating the embarrassment that too many of our elected officials have heaped upon this state,” Mr. Dardenne said to reporters on the campus of Louisiana State University, repeating his descriptions of Mr. Vitter during the nasty primary fight. “Honor, integrity, truthfulness, openness and ethical behavior are the most important traits in public services. John Bel is the candidate who exemplifies these traits.”
Mr. Dardenne began his remarks by emphasizing that he has been a Republican for several decades and remains one. But he said that the Republican brand had been damaged by Bobby Jindal, the unpopular governor, and that it would be further damaged by Mr. Vitter’s election.
The endorsement was not entirely surprising but it certainly does not help Mr. Vitter, who has shown up far behind Mr. Edwards in multiple polls taken since the two won the nonpartisan primary on Oct. 24. The runoff is Nov. 21.
Endorsements so far have been otherwise mostly predictable, with Mr. Vitter winning the support of the Republican delegation in the state House of Representatives and of a former governor, Mike Foster. Mr. Edwards, whose father was a sheriff and who has two brothers are in law enforcement, was endorsed by the state sheriff’s association.
During the primary Mr. Dardenne and another Republican, Scott Angelle, a public service commissioner, bristled at attacks from the Vitter campaign and, as the weeks went on, gave as good as they got. While Mr. Vitter accused both of being loose-spending liberals, Mr. Dardenne and Mr. Angelle both accused Mr. Vitter of lying and explicitly talked of his 2007 prostitution scandal, in which Mr. Vitter admitted only to a “very serious sin.”
Kevin Litten of The New Orleans Times-Picayune writes about the news, and the extent to which it is rooted as much in personal animosity between Dardenne and Vitter as anything:
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s decision to cross party lines and endorse Democrat John Bel Edwards’ bid for governor Thursday (Nov. 5) was framed in the language of bipartisan politics but with a side of personal animosity.
Describing himself as a lifelong Republican who has every intention of remaining Republican, Dardenne said that voting for Edwards is “not a case of choosing the lesser of two evils.” He described having policy discussions with Edwards where the two agreed and warned against the dangers of divisive governors, which he predictedRepublican David Vitter would be.
Edwards “won’t seek to undo the strides that have been made in charter schools and vouchers. He will not be the enemy of business,” Dardenne said. “He knows that fear, intimidation and vindictiveness are the enemies of building a coalition to move Louisiana forward. He will govern in a bipartisan manner based upon what’s best for Louisiana, without regard for how it plays to a national audience.”
In many ways, Dardenne used his speech to call attention to two of his biggest adversaries: Vitter and Gov. Bobby Jindal. But the endorsement was also the best Edwards could have hoped for from a Republican in red state politics-dominated Louisiana, as he has just over two weeks to convince voters that he is is conservative enough to reflect Louisiana values.
The Vitter campaign issued a statement that seemed to suggest there are no hard feelings for Dardenne’s decision.
“We’re very excited about our campaign and the tens of thousands of conservative Louisiana voters who have jumped on board in the past week, including so many that voted for Jay,” the statement says. “We wish Jay and his family the best.”
It’s not clear how much the support of Dardenne — who finished fourth in the primary with 15 percent of the vote — would have on voters in the Nov. 21 runoff, but his announcement sent ripples through the state’s political community. It also was another boost in momentum for Edwards, who led the primary with 40 percent of the vote to Vitter’s 23 percent. Republican Scott Angelle was third with 19 percent.
Dardenne, who made his endorsement outside the student union on the campus of LSU, drew on the history of Louisiana politics in saying that he and “other longtime Republican officeholders were able to be elected when Louisiana was a Democratic state.” He added that “never is this more appropriate than in this election.”
Analysts were split over the significance of the endorsement during interviews conducted before Dardenne’s announcement Thursday. Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster and political consultant based in Baton Rouge, said it’s difficult to see how part of Dardenne’s base voting for Edwards could make a difference in defeating Vitter.
“I’m sure he’s mad, but he finished last” among the four major candidates, Pinsonat said. “It’s all about can they identify (Edwards) as a Democrat. And he’s one of the Democrats — he fits right into that same mold.”
But Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, said the endorsement could provide some comfort to voters who don’t want to pull the lever for Vitter, but also don’t want to vote Democrat.
“They’re asking permission to vote for John Bel (Edwards), and this certainly gives them that permission,” Cross said. “Jay Dardenne has a long history as a political conservative. And to come out and endorse him, that sends a message that it’s OK.”
It’s hard to tell what kind of impact this endorsement will have on the race, but the instinct is to say that it can’t be good news for Vitter. As it is, Edwards came into the runoff as the person who received the highest share of the vote in the October 24th primary, so Vitter’s task is to convince the voters who went for the other two major Republicans in the race, Dardeenne and Angelle, to back him, or at the very least to ensure that the turnout for the runoff was favorable to him. Current polling is somewhat murky on the state of the race, though. RealClearPolitics lists only a small universe of polls with only one, from Gravis, having been taken after the primary and showing Vitter with a fourteen point lead. Pollster has a broader universe of polls, and they show Edwards with a sixteen point lead over Vitter, but only three of the polls included in that calculation where taken after the jungle primary, and it’s not at all clear how reliable any of those polls actually are. Absent a reliable pollster stepping into the state and polling between now and November 21st, we’re likely to go into the runoff somewhat blind as to the state of the race. At the very least, though, the sight of the Republican Lieutenant Governor endorsing the Democratic candidate is something that could cause many Republicans on the fence about Vitter to pull the lever for a Democrat in two weeks.