Until recent months, it was assumed that Republican Senator David Vitter would be the next Republican governor of Louisiana. Coming into this race, David Vitter had the political wind at his back. In a jungle primary, he faced off against Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, both Republicans. The underdog candidate was John Bel Edwards, a member of the state’s legislature.
Early on, Vitter planned to annihilate his GOP rivals, then flounce into the run off with John Bel Edwards. This was an election he had no doubt that he would win. What Vitter failed to account for is the fact that Louisiana residents are more selective as to who they allow to run their state government, versus who they send to Washington. This is especially true after two terms with Bobby Jindal who spent much of his tenure trying to become a successful presidential contender – and failed miserably.
After Vitter lost miserably to John Bel Edwards in the governor’s race and then announced his plans not to run for Senate again, the control of Louisiana politics is up for grabs once more. Bobby Jindal is wildly unpopular, and Vitter is a dead man walking politically.
John Bel Edwards has a nearly perfect rating from the NRA and anti-abortion groups. Despite his conservative beliefs, Edwards has made a number of progressive plans for his administration including issuing an executive order protecting LGBT state employees and contractors. He has also announced plans to raise the minimum wage in a desperately poor state where the richest people often are connected to the multi-billion dollar oil and gas industry.
This wouldn’t have happened without Democratic money flowing into the Bayou State, along with a series of poor political maneuvers by David Vitter trying to tie John Bel Edwards to President Obama.
Many liberals like myself, Bob Mann, Sean Illing, Lamar White and others did everything we could to make sure David Vitter would not be the next governor of Louisiana. After 8 years of Bobby Jindal, there was a need to replace Jindal with someone who would take the state forward, and David Vitter was sure to take Louisiana further into the past.
David Vitter represented the worst the Republican Party had to offer to Louisiana, and his former rival for the nomination, GOP Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, endorsed John Bel Edwards ahead of a landslide rejection.
This may not be a watershed moment where the South rejects the GOP, but it could have been an election cycle in which working class conservatives in Louisiana realized the Republican Party didn’t have their best interests in mind, and voted for a Democrat instead.
Perhaps the revolution against the Southern Strategy began in 2015 here in Louisiana. When faced with a conservative but decent Democratic candidate, voters chose him over the tarnished GOP presumptive winner.
John Bel Edwards is no Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. As I said before, he is opposed to abortion – but he isn’t a radical ideologue like many Republicans are. Edwards is pro-gun, but he also supports reasonable restrictions and registration.
Democrats can start winning back the seats they’ve lost in red states across the country, and realizing that not everyone is far left or far right is a great place to start. A candidate like John Bel Edwards may be abhorrent to a San Francisco or New York liberal, but here in Louisiana, he managed to unite enough Republicans behind him to win. This victory means at least four years without a Republican running the state, an attempt to expand Medicaid, and the renewal of protection for LGBT workers that had been lost under Bobby Jindal. All of these things would likely not have happened had David Vitter won the race.
If Louisiana can reject the idea of having another far right conservative running their state, then there is no reason that other states can’t do the same. It all comes down to mobilizing, educating, and voting.
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