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Vitter’s Future on the Line as Louisiana Votes for Governor

Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Vitter, center, speaks to reporters after his debate against Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards, in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Vitter, center, speaks to reporters after his debate against Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards, in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

As Louisiana voted Saturday in the runoff election for governor, Sen. David Vitter flooded the three-parish New Orleans metro area with robocalls striking a contrite tone: “I humbly ask for your vote.”  

To Republican strategist James Farwell, who lives in New Orleans and has a long record of working with Newt Gingrich, Vitter’s self-defending TV ads with his family in the campaign’s final days are a sign of how well Democrat John Bel Edwards’ campaign executed its strategy.  

Polling shows that Edwards’ attacks on Vitter’s character have hurt, Farwell said. “David would otherwise not have spent  a lot of his TV money over last two weeks apologizing for past actions”  

Vitter has gone from “governor in waiting” to fighting for his political life after a vicious and damaging primary. A liberal columnist in the state wrote in May that Democratic hopes for beating Vitter were “wishful thinking at best .”  

Edwards has led in most polls by as much as 10 points during the runoff. But the gap closed late this week after the Paris terror attacks.  

Vitter released a commercial on Monday accusing Edwards of pledging to “work with [President Barack] Obama to bring Syrian refugees to Louisiana,” a move that put Edwards on defense. He responded with an ad of his own touting his military experience and his support from the state’s law enforcement associations.  

As rain thickened in St. John the Baptist Parish on Saturday afternoon, veteran political consultant Bill Schultz, who works for candidates of both parties across the state, said, “Vitter gained momentarily because of the fear we all have [after the Paris attacks].” But the “fear factor” dissipated after about 48 hours.  

“You say, ‘Wait. What does John Bel Edwards have to do with Syrian refugees?’ ” Schultz said.  

Former two-term Lt. Gov. Jimmy Fitzmorris, who lost a razor-thin 1979 gubernatorial primary amid vote fraud allegations pronounced, “This one looks like Edwards,” as he was finishing breakfast at Chateau Café near the marina at Lake Pontchartrain.  

That view echoed throughout Louisiana political circles on Saturday. But as midday showers rolled across south Louisiana, Democratic operatives worried that if the rain worsened, African-American service industry workers knocking off at 3 p.m. might not vote, hurting Edwards.  

Early voting ended before the Paris attacks, but it leaned Democrat . About 268,140 people voted early and more than 140,000 of them were Democrats, according to early voting statistics released by the Louisiana secretary of State.  

Since the October primary, Edwards has countered by playing up his support from Republicans — including Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who endorsed his candidacy earlier this month — as well as Dardenne and Scott Angelle’s attacks on him during the primary over his trustworthiness and his 2007 prostitution scandal , both of which were featured in advertisements  by the Democratic Governors Association-aligned Gumbo PAC.  

If Vitter loses Saturday, it would raise questions about what’s next for his seat in the Senate. A gubernatorial loss would be a major blow to a possible Senate re-election bid, and already , Louisiana lawmakers such as Reps. Charles Boustany Jr., John Fleming and state Treasurer John Kennedy have made it known that they are looking at seeking Vitter’s seat.  

— Jason Berry in New Orleans contributed to this post.


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