A former four-term governor who returned to politics after nearly a decade in prison is in a runoff with a former Jindal aide to become the new congressman for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District.
Republican Garret Graves and former Democratic Gov. Edwin W. Edwards traded the lead several times throughout Tuesday evening’s vote count. But in the end, Edwards outpolled Graves by 77,852 to 70,706 votes. They will meet in a Dec. 6 runoff.
With the district’s right-leaning constituency, any Democrat faces an uphill climb in December — let alone a convicted felon who has turned off even some members of the party faithful.
Graves did well in the Baton Rouge suburban parishes of Ascension and Livingston. Edwards received the bulk of his votes in East Baton Rouge Parish.
The other leading Republican candidates were state Rep. Lenar Whitney, of Houma, had 19,146 and state Sen. Dan Claitor had 26,520 votes. Baton Rouge businessman Paul Dietzel had 35,013 votes.
Edwards told supporters that he is anxious to face Graves, who “is a lot younger.”
Graves, flanked by his family including his three small children who starred in one of his television ads, addressed his crowd of supporters about 10:30 p.m. with a speech heavy on his plans for Congress that didn’t mention his runoff opponent by name.
“We’re gonna be difference makers,” Graves said. “I’m going up there to make a difference.”
He said he initially was hesitant to run for election, but he had been encouraged by others to seek Cassidy’s congressional seat.
“I never wanted to become a politician,” he said. “This is about being a public servant.”
Edwards said his experience will give him a step up.
“We will continue to work. In the long run, experience, knowledge, the ability to get things done and a good record is going to carry the day,” Edwards said to cheers.
“I have all the advantages,” Edwards said, listing his age, health, experience and knowledge. About Congress, he said, “I know my way around. I’ve been there.”
In a runoff, he plans to introduce himself to younger people who do not really know him. And he looks forward to at least two debates and the opportunity to discuss issues. Edwards, 87, went to federal prison on racketeering convictions.
Graves had raised the most campaign cash in the race, which gave him an opportunity for television and direct mail ads. Graves is making his first run for political office, though he’s had several jobs in politics, including six years as the Jindal-appointed chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and several years in Washington working as a staffer for U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin and U.S. Sens. David Vitter and John Breaux.
Republican Claitor, who held a watch gathering at a private home, said in an interview that Graves’ money edge was decisive.
“If you can raise a lot of money, you can go to Congress,” Claitor said. “That’s the takeaway.” Claitor, who has one year left on his state senate term, said he is unsure of his political plans beyond that.
Republican Dietzel conceded in comments to supporters at his campaign watch party.
“We always said we wanted God to get the most glory. Whatever the outcome, we have not done anything in the campaign that would reflect poorly on our heavenly Father. If it was not his will for me to be in Congress, I don’t want to be in Congress.”
Congressman Bill Cassidy’s decision to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, leaving a rare vacant congressional seat, opened a floodgate for Republican hopefuls in the district.
The crowded field — a dozen names were on the ballot, but no obvious marquee Republican — virtually guaranteed the race would head into the Dec. 6 runoff.
Two years ago, Cassidy sailed to re-election in the district without even facing a Democratic challenger. In 2008, he defeated Don Cazayoux, a Democrat who held the seat for just a few months before Cassidy beat him in a special election. Aside from Cazayoux’s brief stint, the district has had Republican representation since the 1970s.
Edwards, the colorful former governor, served nearly a decade in prison on racketeering and fraud charges. Edwards’ attempt to jump back into politics after a failed reality show turn has drawn national attention to the race.
Still, political observers have noted the unusual nature of the race — with no big-name Republicans seeking the seat and, thus, no clear GOP front-runner heading into Election Day.
The 6th District — as it was redrawn in 2011 — is mostly centered in the capital region but it claws down into Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes and arches up into Pointe Coupee and back to the Florida Parishes.
When Louisiana’s districts were redrawn and the state lost a U.S. House seat because of stagnant population trends, much of Baton Rouge’s black population was carved out of the 6th and into the 2nd District, which stretches down to New Orleans.