In one of the most improbable elections in United States history, it took less than an hour after polls closed in Louisiana’s gubernatorial run-off election for networks to start calling the race for John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. Let that sink in: A Democrat with almost zero political experience just became governor of Louisiana, one of the most conservative states in America. In fact, no state in the Deep South has had a Democratic governor in nearly a decade.
And while John Bel Edwards deserves some credit, almost all of the thanks should go to his opponent, Republican Senator David Vitter who managed to botch his campaign in truly spectacular fashion. Vitter, who just one year ago was considered a practical shoo-in, spent each and every day of his campaign seemingly inventing new ways to make every person in the state hate his guts. Indeed, he seemed to revel in his own bad image. In 2014, the Daily Beast wrote of Vitter:
He’s a nasty piece of work, the junior senator from Louisiana. He doesn’t seem to like anybody. He loathes senior senator Mary Landrieu, he detests Governor Bobby Jindal, he despises the media. They all pretty much hate him back.
He had absolutely no friends on either side of the aisle. If elections are built on endorsements, Vitter barely got any. Despite threats and arm-twisting, almost no Republicans in the state would stand by him. Most called on him to drop out.
His response to almost universal hatred was to go negative earlier and fiercely. For Vitter the question was never “when do we go negative,” it was “how soon can we do it?”
The strategy was simple: Play on Louisiana’s deep dislike of President Obama by linking – however absurdly – everything his opponent, Edwards, did to the White House. The results were as surreal as they were dishonest. His last – and most desperate – gambit, for example, was to use the raw footage of the Paris terrorist attacks just days after the events to link his opponent to Obama – and both to the terrorists. It was that kind of campaign.
He wasn’t above ugly gay-bashing to help score a few extra points with conservative voters, as well. Sometimes with hilarious results. At a campaign stop in his doomed election, he lamented the LGBT community by angrily saying gay people were having same-sex marriage “shoved down the throats of folks who have sincerely held religious views that marriage is between one man and one woman.” He failed to mention that he himself wasn’t so keen on the “one man and one woman” part when he was involved in a very public scandal involving a “D.C. madam” and a number of prostitutes which Vitter visited frequently in 2007.
Nobody was buying any part of Vitter’s desperate campaign. Vitter had watched a massive lead dissolve into a double-digit deficit. He spent boat loads of money on his campaign and lost utterly despite it.
As if to alienate the last remaining people who may have considered voting for him, Vitter spent his last day before the election hanging out at a “Real Men” conference with a “desire to create a safe place for men,” and consequently barred women from attending. It was that kind of campaign, too.
The winner of the election, John Bel Edwards, will try to repair some of the damage that out-going Governor Bobby Jindal (R) left the state wrestling with. Edwards has pledged to (finally) bring Medicaid expansion to the state, and will try to bring the state’s struggling economy back in line with the rest of the nation’s more robust job growth.
In a telling moment, Edwards concluded his victory speech by telling Louisiana, “I will never embarrass you.” I wonder who he could be referring to?
Feature image via Flickr