Who Is John Bel Edwards? The New Louisiana Governor Just Took Back The State For The Democrats
In a hotly contested runoff election held Saturday, Louisiana elected John Bel Edwards as the state's first Democratic governor since 2008. Edwards defeated rival former governor and state representative and current U.S. Senator David Vitter with a 14 percent margin, the closest race in Louisiana since Kathleen Blanco's defeat of Bobby Jindal in 2003. The unexpected win was a big shake up for state politics, and in the pursuant media coverage, it became clear that nobody really knows who John Bel Edwards is.
Besides an unfortunate name coincidence with another prominent politician, Edwards has an impeccable record of service — high school valedictorian, 10 years in the military with a dean's list graduation from West Point, and seven years in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Now he's preparing to extend his resume all the way to the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge.
Edwards' opponent, former Louisiana governor David Vitter, was the early frontrunner when he entered the race in January 2014, pulling huge donations and support from the Republican Party. But the meteoric rise was halted by the revelation of a sex scandal from Vitter's time in the U.S. Senate, which also ruined his gubernatorial run for the 2003 election.
Incumbent Bobby Jindal may have actually won the race for Edwards. The outgoing governor refused to publicly support Vitter's "badly damaged brand," leaving the Republican gubernatorial nominee without a key endorsement that could have won him the race. Jindal and Vitter reportedly have a history of bad blood, and even the timing of Jindal's withdrawal from the presidential race has been politicized, despite denials from Jindal's campaign staff. However, Jindal's support still might not have been enough to secure the race for the disgraced Vitter.
The win for Edwards means a new shot at Louisiana for the Democratic Party. Vitter's seat in the Senate is up for grabs in 2016, and five House seats currently held by Republicans could swing in the elections next year. Currently, the Louisiana 2nd Congressional District is the only Democratic representative from the state in Congress, but the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Districts have histories of electing Democratic representatives. With a Democratic governor campaigning alongside the candidates for the 115th Congress, there's a solid chance to pick up 3 Democratic seats in the House.
Edwards won't have an easy job going into the governorship. Louisiana is suffering economically, with a $1.6 billion funding gap that hasn't been solved yet. He'll also be fighting against a House of Representatives and a Senate that are majority Republican. But the people of Louisiana showed great faith in him, and with their support, John Bel Edwards will hopefully bring change to a state that needs support.