Since he first voted in 1966, Michael Tudor has voted for the Republican candidate for governor in every election but one.
The one exception: In 1991, Tudor followed the advice of the iconic bumper sticker — “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important” — and pulled the lever for Edwin Edwards, the populist Democrat, rather than David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard turned Republican hero among working-class whites.
Tudor, an Alexandria-based attorney, will vote Democrat again this year. He already has a yard sign outside his home in Pineville for state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the Democrat, rather than U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the Republican. In the Oct. 24 primary, Tudor voted for Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Republican who finished fourth and out of the money.
“I’m concerned with Vitter’s baggage,” Tudor said. “Louisiana has a history of governors with baggage. John Bel Edwards is a clean-cut, West Point guy.”
Voters such as Tudor explain why Vitter, once the heavy favorite, is trailing Edwards by 10 to 20 percent, according to three polls that have been released publicly during the runoff. Vitter is not getting the support he needs from the 15 percent of voters who backed Dardenne in the primary or the 18 percent who backed Scott Angelle, a Republican member of the Public Service Commission.
Larry Dove is a registered Democrat who voted for Angelle in the primary because he knew Angelle from Breaux Bridge.
Now, “if you’re going to vote for John Bel, that’s an Obama vote,” said Dove, a retired state Department of Transportation staffer. “I don’t like Obama to the core. We have to go with Vitter. You don’t look at a person’s personal life. You look at what he’s accomplished and what he’ll accomplish.”
Vitter needs 80 percent of the Dardenne and Angelle voters, estimates John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge-based pollster, who this week released a survey for Nexstar TV stations showing Edwards leading Vitter by 52 percent to 32 percent.
“Vitter needs a clean sweep of the Dardenne and Angelle voters,” Couvillon said. “He’s falling far short.”
Vitter and a pro-Vitter super PAC savaged Dardenne and Angelle in attack ads during the primary that each man said contained half-truths and outright falsehoods.
“Senator Pinocchio,” Angelle called Vitter.
“He’s ineffective. He’s vicious. He’s lying,” Dardenne said in a campaign debate in a video clip that the anti-Vitter Gumbo PAC is replaying in a TV ad throughout Louisiana.
To be sure, Vitter should have the inside track with the Dardenne and Angelle voters. Nearly all of them are white, and most typically vote Republican.
This means that Vitter could still corral them in the days leading up to the Nov. 21 runoff. Vitter is a smart, disciplined candidate who has never lost an election. He has won seven in a row to the state House, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate by always running against a hot-button person or issue that voters revile.
This year, he’s running against President Barack Obama — who had a 40 percent approval rating in a September poll for The Advocate and WWL-TV — and against unnamed corrupt “Baton Rouge politicians.” The Vitter campaign’s polling undoubtedly believes these messages will peel enough Dardenne and Angelle supporters away from Edwards to win.
Vitter is not closing the deal, at least not yet, though.
Voters for Dardenne and Angelle in the primary are favoring Vitter but nowhere near the necessary 80 percent, according to a second survey released this week, by pollster Verne Kennedy.
Angelle voters said they favor Vitter by 48 percent to 34 percent, while the advantage among Dardenne voters is only 43 percent to 37 percent, Kennedy found.
Many Angelle voters remain upset with Vitter’s attack ads in the primary that labeled Angelle as “Sinkhole Scott,” by blaming him for not preventing the Bayou Corne sinkhole.
“The wounds are pretty deep,” said state Sen. Fred Mills Jr., a Republican who grew up with Angelle in Breaux Bridge and remains close to him. “They just don’t like the way Scott was treated.”
Vitter’s admission in 2007 that he had committed a “very serious sin” with the D.C. Madam — without any additional explanation — also hurts him, particularly among female voters, Mills added.
“If you favor certain conservative policies, then Vitter is your guy,” Mills said. “But if character matters, then it’s Edwards.”
Mills has already decided which candidate he will vote for, but won’t say it publicly for now.
John Michael Lockhart is another Dardenne fan — and longtime activist Republican — who will vote for Edwards.
“I believe that John Bel Edwards is a uniter. David Vitter is a divider,” said Lockhart, who publishes the Riverside Reader, a free weekly in four parishes west of East Baton Rouge Parish. “Ronald Reagan had the 11th Commandment — don’t speak ill of other Republicans. Vitter ran a scorched earth campaign against Jay and Scott. He tears people down.”
Aubrey Cole, who owns Don’s Specialty Meats in the Lafayette area, strongly supported Angelle and cannot stomach Vitter.
“He lies and didn’t show up for the (TV) debates,” Cole said. (Vitter showed up for two of the seven debates.)
Cole is trying to decide whether to skip voting for governor or vote for Edwards.
“John Bel Edwards has good ideas, but he’s a Democrat,” Cole said.
Vitter’s TV ads tying Edwards to Obama are giving him pause, but he feels emboldened with the knowledge that as governor, Edwards would have to work with a Legislature with Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Doug Moreau, who served for 18 years as the district attorney in East Baton Rouge Parish, voted for Dardenne, a close friend, but now expects he’ll support Vitter.
“He’s a conservative,” Moreau said. “That part appeals to me.”
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter @TegBridges. For more coverage of the governor’s race, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.