Burnett: Victory Bells For John Bel

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Some months ago, I received a phone call from a guy by the name of John Bel Edwards, who said he was running for governor and wanted to meet.

His name was not unfamiliar to me.  My friend and state Rep. Thomas Carmody had often mentioned John Bel to me because they were seatmates in the House. So I agreed to meet with Edwards for breakfast at Strawn’s on Kings Highway.  Linda Talbert joined me for the meeting.  Edwards brought Linda Day, his campaign manager.lou Burnett

I was impressed with Edwards, as was Linda.  We both liked him, felt he had a good grasp of the issues facing Louisiana, and that he would make a good governor. But he was a Democrat, albeit a conservative one.  There was no way that John Bel, as a Democrat, could win in the blood-red Bayou State, so we thought.  After all, longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu had just been soundly defeated by Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy.

And, David Vitter was considered invincible, having  never lost an election, even after his involvement with prostitutes in D.C. became public news.  Even so, it was my perception that Vitter should stay in the U.S. Senate where he had increasing seniority.

While he had weathered the prostitution scandal, which broke in 2007, in his run for re-election in 2010, I thought that running for governor was a different ball game and that the scandal would resurface with a vengeance. And so it did.  When two viable Republicans – Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle – joined the race, Vitter began feeling the pressure from his own party.

Vitter was in a fight for his political life with the two Republicans who zeroed in on Vitter’s scandal, putting the senator on the defensive.  It was downright bare-knuckled politics among the three GOP candidates. When the primary was over, Vitter, battered and bruised, limped into the runoff with Edwards, who got a surprising 40% of the vote to Vitter’s 23%.

To make matters worse, Dardenne endorsed Edwards, while Angelle remained mum.  Supporters of both, angered by Vitter’s vicious attacks on them in the primary, decided to support Edwards. The polls consistently showed Edwards with a double-digit lead, and, as each poll emerged, the Vitter campaign appeared more desperate.

Some Republican pollsters tried to prop up Vitter, claiming the race had closed to within four percentage points.  But I have always put a lot of stock in the polls of Verne Kennedy of Market Research Insight. His final poll prompted him to predict that Edwards would win by a 55-45% margin, but as black voter turnout increased, so would Edwards’ margin. The final result was Edwards 56% to Vitter’s 44%. Edwards is the first Democrat to be elected governor in the Deep South in a dozen years.  I wish him well.

Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards carried 39 of the state’s 64 parishes en route to his historic victory. Voter turnout statewide was 39.7%, which was below the anticipated turnout of 44%.

How area parishes voted: Bossier Parish-David Vitter (R)–63%, John Bel Edwards (D)– 27%(Voter turnout–36%). Caddo Parish-John Bel Edwards (D)– 62%, David Vitter(R)–38%(Voter turnout–38.1%). Claiborne Parish-John Bel Edwards (D)– 54%, David Vitter(R)–46(Voter turnout–41%). DeSoto Parish-John Bel Edwards (D)–54%David Vitter (R)–46%((Voter turnout–43.4%). Webster Parish-John Bel Edwards (D)–53%, David Vitter(R)–47%(Voter turnout–39.9%).

Senate District 36-Republican State Rep. Henry Burns of Haughton, who represents House District 9,  lost a nail-biter by 325 votes to Bossier attorney Ryan Gatti, also a Republican.  The official tally was Gatti 14,023 (51%) and Burns 13,698 (49%). Voter turnout in the District was 38.8%. Here are the results by parish: Bienville Parish-Henry Burns–1,201(53%), Ryan Gatti– 1,071(47%)(Voter turnout–44.5%). Bossier Parish-Henry Burns– 7,428 (50%), Ryan Gatti–7,330 (50%)(Voter turnout–38.1%). Claiborne Parish-Henry Burns – 518 (50%), Ryan Gatti–515 (50%)Voter turnout–41.4%). Webster Parish-Ryan Gatti–5,107 (53%), Henry Burns-4.551(47%)(Voter turnout–38.3%). Incumbent Republican state Sen. Robert Adley is term-limited and could not seek another term. Interestingly, Burns’ legislative assistant, Dodie Horton, was elected to his House District 9 seat. Democrat Todd Hollenshead, who finished third in the primary, endorsed Gatti.

 

Lou Gehrig Burnett is a   seasoned veteran of national and local politics. He publishes FaxNet Update, a weekly   political newsletter.