Mayor Landrieu offers low-key endorsement for John Bel Edwards _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Saying he is willing to go under house arrest for contempt, Mayor Mitch Landrieu discusses Judge Reese's ruling that the city must pay firefighters for back pay in New Orleans, La. Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. Landrieu says the city plans to appeal the decision.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu finally has weighed in on this year’s governor’s race, offering an endorsement of his party’s candidate in the Nov. 21 runoff, John Bel Edwards, along with many other Democratic mayors and law enforcement officials from around the state on Friday.

For Landrieu, the endorsement was likely not a hard decision. The Oct. 24 primary left a choice between a candidate from his own party and Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who has long had hostile relationships with both the mayor and his sister, former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

However, Mitch Landrieu’s endorsement was shoehorned into a news release between those of the mayors of Monroe and Amite and was not the Edwards campaign’s most heralded endorsement of the day. That honor went to the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, which formally endorsed him earlier in the week.

In the news release, Landrieu said he trusted Edwards to aid local governments.

“John Bel Edwards will be a partner with local governments and will help turn the state budget around,” said Landrieu, who had been seen as a possible contender in the governor’s race until late in the game. “With public safety and criminal justice as my top priority, I also know that John Bel will help us in our fight against violent crime. He has the support of the law enforcement community, and he will also be an honest and hard-working governor that will put the people of our state first.”

Landrieu avoided making an endorsement during the primary, even as the rest of his party was rallying around Edwards, the first Democrat to make a serious run for the Governor’s Mansion in eight years. About a week before the election, he said none of the candidates, from either major party, had shown how their administrations would be a partner for New Orleans.

There are political factors that could explain Landrieu’s earlier, noncommittal stance as well.

In the months leading up to the runoff, conventional wisdom held that either Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle or Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, both Republicans, would stand a good chance of coming out on top in a runoff against either Vitter or Edwards. In that context, Landrieu’s reluctance to endorse could be seen as an attempt not to alienate a potential governor from the opposing party who might be willing to work with his administration.

But the anti-Vitter Republican vote split between Angelle and Dardenne, leaving them in third and fourth place.

In some ways, Landrieu also represents a potential liability to Edwards.

To win, Edwards will need a strong turnout from New Orleans’ heavily Democratic electorate, though it’s not clear that Landrieu’s endorsement alone will do a lot to get those voters to the polls.

At the same time, Edwards will be fighting Vitter for the voters who chose one of the other GOP candidates and, in many cases, are not fond either of the government in New Orleans or of President Barack Obama.

Vitter already has launched attacks seeking to tie Edwards to Obama. That strategy worked well for Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy when he unseated Mary Landrieu last year in a campaign heavily backed by Vitter.

And over the summer, Vitter seemed to pick a fight with Mitch Landrieu aimed at riling up his base, inserting himself into the debates over crime in New Orleans and Landrieu’s call to remove statues of Confederate officials in open letters that urged the mayor to focus on “murders, not monuments.”

Vitter held his own endorsement event on Friday in Baton Rouge, where the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a small-business lobby group, gave him its seal of approval.

Across town, Edwards, flanked by sheriffs from around the state, touted his endorsement by the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association earlier in the week. Later, his campaign announced that several mayors, including Landrieu, also had endorsed his campaign.

Angelle and Dardenne, who were targeted with negative political ads from Vitter’s campaign before the primary, have not endorsed either runoff candidate. They did not attend Vitter’s “Together, Louisiana Strong” rally, which was decorated with Louisiana GOP banners and featured other high-profile Republican officials.

A GOP “unity” rally last year after the U.S. Senate primary featured Republican Rob Maness’ endorsement of eventual winner Cassidy, who beat out Maness to make the runoff against Mary Landrieu.

Cassidy’s wife, Laura, who attended Vitter’s event Friday in her husband’s place, alluded to the bitter battle that preceded the primary. “I know there are hard feelings, but this is not about the past. This is about the future,” she said.

Others onstage in support of Vitter included U.S. Reps. John Fleming and Ralph Abraham and state Treasurer John Kennedy.

Dawn Starns, state director of the NFIB, said backing Vitter was an easy choice for her group. “Sen. Vitter has been a staunch defender of small business,” she said.

Vitter said he was thankful for the support of small-business owners, whom he called “the heart and soul” of the state. “It means so much because of who NFIB is and who they represent throughout Louisiana,” he said.

On Thursday, Vitter announced endorsements from the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and several Acadiana-area lawmakers.

The sheriffs, meanwhile, said they believe Edwards — whose brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather all have served as sheriffs — is the right candidate for public safety.

“Integrity and character is what I see in John Bel Edwards,” said Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack.

Gary Bennett, the retired sheriff of West Carroll Parish, said the vote to endorse Edwards was “overwhelming.”