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Behind the Scenes of Louisiana's Gubernatorial Campaigns

Sue Lincoln

Before November 24th, nearly every political expert agreed: John Bel Edwards couldn’t win.

“He’s a Democrat running in a state and a time where nobody believes a Democrat can win statewide,” Edwards’ campaign strategist Jared Arsement said was what they were told, over and over,

He was among the campaign insiders who gathered with political experts at LSU last week, for a debriefing on how Edwards won – and David Vitter lost – the Louisiana governorship. Mary Patricia Wray with the Edwards campaign admitted it was a seemingly impossible task.

“One of the first polls that we ever ran showed the Governor-elect at, I think, seven or eight percent name recognition. And we of course all sat around and said, ‘Well this great. We have so much room to grow’,” Wray recounted with a laugh. “But the same poll that told us nobody knew who we were also showed us that we had a very narrow, but a very clear path to winning.”

That path included the Republicans staying busy going after each other from the start. Vitter’s Super PAC director Joel DiGrado said that was his task.

“My lane was to destroy anybody who was gonna go try to take out David in the polls,” Di Grado said of the ads the Fund for Louisiana’s Future ran during the primary, alternatively attacking Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle.

“It was kind of like every week we had to reassess who are we beating up this week.”

“Like whack-a-mole?” Di Grado was asked.

“Like whack-a-mole,” he agreed, “But it was like whack-a-mole on a balance beam, you know, because it was like your hate had to be equalized.”

Though many thought the Edwards’ campaign’s “prostitutes over patriots” ad was the overall winner for the Governor-elect, Wray said a runoff ad done by the “Anybody but Vitter” Gumbo PAC, using debate footage from Dardenne and Angelle, was the one that helped most inside Edwards’ camp.

“That was our favorite ad,” Wray said. “Inside of our campaign headquarters we would often yell, ‘A stench is comin’ over Louisiana.’ It was absolutely our favorite and cheered us up on some tough days.”

LPB and WRKF are airing more from these discussions on December 16th and 17th, respectively.