If the hard work is just beginning, John Bel Edwards and his supporters got to enjoy the thrill of victory this weekend.
In days of increasing partisan divisions among voters, Edwards overcame the weak track record of Democrats in Louisiana, winning the state’s most powerful office in what is — in today’s terms — a landslide victory. It was remarkable not only in the overall margin but in Edwards’ strong run in Republican strongholds, including Ascension, Lafayette and Jefferson parishes, the latter the home of his opponent.
It was the first loss ever for U.S. Sen. David Vitter, an accomplished politician who played a leading role in raising the GOP to dominance in the state.
There’s an old saying that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. In electoral terms, the senator fell hard on Saturday. But often the qualities that helped the big to rise come to the fore in a concession speech — one that Vitter never expected to give but demonstrated graciousness and a big man’s willingness to put aside the ugliness of the fall campaign.
Vitter said he’d reached his “personal term limit” and would leave the Senate when his term expires in January 2017, but he pledged to work with the new administration in Baton Rouge while in the nation’s capital.
Edwards is only too aware of how much help he needs. As two-term state representative, he fought many of the policies of outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal. The latter’s name was not on the ballot but his prolonged absence from the state during a failed presidential campaign made “national politics” an epithet in the state’s election year.
The winner called it catching the breeze of hope. Certainly Vitter was hobbled by Jindal’s unpopularity. But Edwards also makes a virtue of necessity by calling for Republicans and Democrats in the State Capitol to come together in common purpose.
The Legislature remains majority Republican, as are all the statewide elected officials, including two runoff winners. The newly elected lieutenant governor is Billy Nungesser, and Jeff Landry defeated incumbent Buddy Caldwell to become attorney general.
But such are the divisions in the GOP that many Republicans cast their lot with Edwards, including outgoing Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who endorsed the Democrat in the runoff. We wouldn’t be surprised if many GOP officeholders crossed the party line in the privacy of the voting booth.
Some of this is undoubtedly a revolt against Jindal’s policies but also his way of doing business, for he shared with Vitter a partisan approach to government.
Edwards benefitted from a bipartisan revolt in the capitol: There is an “us against them” atmosphere of young gubernatorial aides dictating policies on Jindal’s terms, a politics of winners and losers, no holds barred. Edwards’ goal of building a governing coalition is going to be difficult enough after that, but it will be impossible unless winners and losers of the weekend demonstrate Vitter’s graciousness and commitment to moving forward.
The state budget is in grievous shape and Edwards knows he needs to build majorities in the Legislature for hard choices. He’s going in with a landslide victory that ought to give the breeze of change a chance.
We congratulate him and wish him the best. “I will always be honest,” John Bel Edwards said. “I will never embarrass you. I will get up every day fighting to put the people of Louisiana first.”
He deserves the cordial support of everyone to make that promise good.