Sunday, July 13, 2014

Edwin Edwards-- In Louisiana He's Not Just The Punchline To A Joke


Last February we looked at the possibility-- which seemed remote-- that former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards would run for Congress. And here we are, 5 months later, and he's in the middle of a free-for-all contesting the open seat-- incumbent Bill Cassidy is running against Mary Landrieu for Senate-- in LA-06 (a blatantly ethnically-cleansed Baton Rouge plus Thibodaux). A gerrymandered mess, LA-06 has a PVI of R+21 (and, without the Afican-American neighborhoods of north Baton Rouge is 22.1% Black) while LA-02 was designed to contain as many African-Americans as possible in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The district is 63% African-American and the PVI is D+23.

Sorry for the tangent. The race to replace Cassidy includes 18 Republicans, a Libertarian, Edwards plus two other Democrats. The filing deadline isn't until August 22, so who knows how many others will jump in. The leading Republican in the race is state Senator Dan Claitor, although the Tea Party is running Bob Bell and there is a businessman, Paul Dietzel in the race who looks like he's also a contender. When the rest of the country is voting in the general election on November 4, Louisiana has a jungle primary. If no one gets 50%, which seems certain, there will be a run-off on December 6. The 2 latest polls both shows Edwards way out ahead, one with 32% and one with 43%. The problem is that once he comes in first in the primary, second place will go to a Republican who may only be polling 11% or 20% now but will work to consolidate the rest of the GOP vote in the month between the primary and the runoff.

A head-to-head theoretical post-primary match between Claitor and Edwards has Claitor ahead-- 52.3-47.7%, pretty close… and very doable for Edwards. As of the March 31 FEC reporting deadline, Edwards had only raised $33,171. The top-raising Republicans are way ahead of him-- Garret Graves ($320,827), Paul Dietzel ($300,178) and Dan Claitor ($158,323). Duck Dynasty hasn't endorsed anyone yet.

But, like Tom Ravenel, Edwards was not just a convicted felon but also a reality show star. His show, The Governor's Wife was a reminder that he was the longest-serving governor in Louisiana's history. This week, Eric Benson at the National Journal introduced Americans who may have forgotten Edwards to the colorful, 86 year old ex Guv making a run for Congress (where he once served-- from 1965 to 1972).
Edwin Edwards is loosely a New Deal Democrat, but he doesn't believe so much in any grand vision of America; he believes in doing favors. His version of politics is much more personal than ideological. Edwards is running for Congress in a district that Mitt Romney won by 34 percentage points-- enemy territory for a Democrat-- but he believes he can prevail by peeling off Republicans one by one, with a promise that he'll do right by each and every one of them. Sure, Edwards is competing in an era of micro-targeting and ideological purity, when retail political skills are much less central to congressional elections than they once were. But so what, his thinking seems to go. Who can resist the sly smile, the Cajun lilt, and the mischievous wink of the man they call the Silver Fox?

…In 2000, he was convicted of 17 counts of racketeering, extortion, fraud, and conspiracy in a wide-ranging case involving the granting of state casino licenses. He ended up serving eight and a half years of a 10-year sentence.

...The only Democrat in a race packed with Republicans, Edwards will almost certainly advance to the second round. (Louisiana's "jungle primary" system, which Edwards himself installed as governor in 1975, dictates that all candidates enter an open election in November and, if no one surpasses 50 percent of the vote, the top two compete in a December runoff.) But once he makes it to the second round, he is almost unanimously considered a lock to lose. "He will get crushed … and the only person who really gets anything out of it is Edwards, because he doesn't really want to win, he just wants the attention," longtime Louisiana Democratic political operative Robert Mann wrote me in an email.

Still, Edwards retains a kind of mystique that makes him impossible to ignore. "He's hard to beat, man, I'm telling you," says Roemer, the only person ever to defeat Edwards in an election. (Edwards avenged the loss by defeating Roemer four years later.) "He's not going to be a pushover this time. It would surprise me if he didn't have a battle plan. I haven't seen it yet, and I don't know what it is, but I wouldn't assume just because I was a new face and a Republican in a conservative district that he would be an easy opponent."

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