By Margaret Newkirk
Louisiana elected Democrat John Bel Edwards as governor on Saturday, ending eight years of Republican rule and making Louisiana the only state in the Deep Red U.S. South led by a Democrat.
Edwards, the minority leader in the Louisiana House, beat Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, according to results reported by the Associated Press.
The victory followed three years of work rebuilding the Louisiana's Democratic Party and dissatisfaction with outgoing Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, said Karen Carter Peterson, Democratic Party chairwoman in the state and a state Senate leader.
"They had an unpopular governor and a flawed candidate and we had a great champion," Peterson said. "We built up the party in the South, where that's difficult. Nobody believed it could be done."
Edwards, 49, is a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger who has spent much of the last eight years criticizing Jindal's performance in office. He joined the Louisiana House in 2008 and has been minority leader since 2012.
"I came up short," Vitter said in a concession speech, adding that he would not seek re-election to the Senate after his term expires in a year. "I've reached my personal term limit," he said.
Vitter, 54, has been a U.S senator since 2005. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 until 2005. Vitter was widely considered to be the front-runner when he announced his campaign for governor in 2014.
Vitter endured a three-way battle among Republicans in Louisiana's late October all-party primary to make it into Saturday's runoff election. Neither of his vanquished Republican opponents endorsed him, and one, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, endorsed Edwards. Jindal, who returned to Baton Rouge Tuesday after ending his presidential campaign, did not make an endorsement.
The campaign also dredged up Vitter's involvement in a 2007 prostitution scandal in Washington.
In the final days of the campaign, with the Nov. 13 Paris terrorist attacks fresh in voters' minds, Vitter's campaign released a series of television and radio advertisements and made recorded telephone calls to voters that linked Edwards to President Barack Obama's decision to accept refugees from war- torn Syria into the U.S.
That marked the first time the refugee issue has been put to U.S. voters, at least peripherally, since the series of shootings and bombings in Paris tied to Islamic extremists killed at least 130 people.
A Market Research Insight poll taken before the Paris attacks showed Edwards up by 14 points, 52 percent to 38 percent, among 600 likely voters. That poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
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