At this time in 2014, Governor-elect David Vitter was measuring the drapes on the walls of the big office on the fourth floor of the State Capitol.
Well, he wasn’t governor-elect then, but as a sitting Republican U.S. senator and proven campaigner, Vitter was the favorite in the 2015 election coming up. He had weathered a sex-related scandal and even been re-elected thumpingly in 2010.
The conventional wisdom in 2015, and you read a lot of it here, was that he would make the runoff and then have a commanding party advantage over a little-known state representative, John Bel Edwards of Amite.
Is the conventional wisdom wrong again?
Well, depending on what circles one travels in, the governor is the favorite for re-election in the fall. Or he’s destined to lose, as people are more and more voting the party and not the man, turning around the old slogan that Republicans used decades ago to build their membership in what was once heavily Democratic Louisiana.
Unquestionably, the disarray in the GOP opposition lately has helped Edwards. U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy declined to run, after much public agonizing, delaying much of the spadework needed for Edwards’ challengers.
To date, there are two informally announced, Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham from rural north Louisiana. Both have appealing personal stories in business and professions; Abraham is a physician. But those stories are almost unknown to the general public just yet.
No one in politics doubts that Edwards is by conviction pro-life and is an avid hunter; the hot-button issues are off the table. “He’s signed every bill,” was the way the Rev. Gene Mills, head of the social conservatives of the Louisiana Family Forum, described Edwards’ anti-abortion record.
The governor will run an active and well-financed campaign for reelection. He’s also got some significant GOP support.
Republican pollster John Couvillon told the Press Club of Baton Rouge earlier this year that the long battle over budget with the Republican House leaders have tended to hurt Edwards’ poll numbers, as the average voter sees disarray; more perceptive voters may see the Republicans agreeing with Edwards, in the Senate and in the Division of Administration headed by Jay Dardenne.
But Edwards does not need the perceptive voters, he needs a majority. People are indeed voting more by party, although deep-blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland are happy with their Republican governors. Perhaps the same will be said of Edwards by Republicans in Louisiana.
The case against Edwards has not yet been made by his opponents. Maybe he’ll be tagged as a tax-and-spender, but no one in the GOP is mentioning the mess he inherited from Bobby Jindal in 2016. Again, though, the perceptive voters are not enough.
A couple of governors have not gained re-election lately — Buddy Roemer in the bizarre David Duke race, and Kathleen Blanco opting not to run for a second term in 2007 in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But the norm is that governors are favorites for re-election. Maybe President Donald Trump can swing Louisiana back into the red column, but he now has his own problems. The conventional wisdom is that he could motivate Democrats to turn out to vote.
The conventional wisdom has been wrong before.
Friends describe Edwards as confident but not overconfident during this holiday season. But one could have said the same thing about David Vitter at Christmas 2014.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.