BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As the two men vying to be Louisiana's next governor move into the campaign ahead of a Nov. 21 runoff, they're asking the state's voters to decide who's more unpopular in the state: term-limited Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal or Democratic President Barack Obama.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards highlighted their strategies Saturday night as the candidate list was whittled to two in the governor's race.
Vitter called Edwards a liberal and said supporting the state representative would "be the same as voting to make Barack Obama governor of Louisiana." Edwards said Vitter represents a "third Jindal term" in office.
Obama remains highly unpopular in the conservative state, but so does Jindal. The two-term governor's policies are criticized as causing continued financial problems at home, and his absenteeism while he runs for the GOP presidential nomination has drawn ire.
Vitter and Edwards were the top two vote-getters in Saturday's open primary, which pit all candidates regardless of party in a competition against each other.
Edwards always seemed assured of a runoff spot because of his standing as the only major Democratic candidate. Vitter bested two other major Republicans to secure his position on the November ballot, eclipsing Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, rivals who called Vitter's eight-year-old prostitution scandal a stain on Louisiana.
The senator apologized in 2007 for a "very serious sin" after he was linked through phone records to Washington's "D.C. Madam."
The race was tighter than Vitter had hoped, with Edwards taking 40 percent of the primary vote and Vitter advancing with 23 percent, according to unofficial returns.
Months ago, Vitter was atop the polls, flush with millions in campaign cash and running like an incumbent. But amid continued talk of the prostitution scandal and a drumbeat of criticism about his attack-heavy campaign tactics, Vitter's negatives spiked among voters. One PAC has been running an "Anybody But Vitter" campaign.
Vitter, however, maintained a strong conservative base that propelled him into the runoff.
The two runoff contenders immediately took swipes at each other, suggesting the themes voters can expect next.
Vitter is making the competition a partisan one, which has worked well for other Republican candidates in recent years as Louisiana became an increasingly red state.
"We have a stark difference in this runoff," Vitter said as he described Edwards' votes for Obama. He added: "John Bel Edwards is not a casual supporter of Barack Obama. He is a true believer."
While he tied Vitter to Jindal, Edwards also described the U.S. senator as "Nixonian."
"Over the next few weeks David Vitter is going to spend millions of dollars lying about my record, lying about my values, lying about my service to our country and to our state," Edwards said.
An Ivy League-educated Rhodes Scholar from the New Orleans suburbs, Vitter has returned to a campaign style that has worked for him in previous races. He's running on conservative values and describing himself as a political outsider.
"The politicians in Baton Rouge have created one heck of a mess. The state budget in disarray, eight years of cuts to higher education, too many of our roads and bridges in complete disrepair and too many of our best and brightest having to leave the state for good opportunity," Vitter told supporters.
Edwards is campaigning as a conservative Democrat. He's pro-gun and anti-abortion, and comes from a family of sheriffs. He has a West Point degree and military background.
"I live by the honor code, a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do. And David Vitter wouldn't last five minutes at West Point," Edwards said Saturday night.
The primary race largely came down to personalities — and a referendum of sorts on whether Vitter's eight-year-old prostitution scandal still resonated with voters. Vitter has dodged talk of the scandal, suggesting he and the voters have moved on.
In other Louisiana races, four statewide incumbents, all Republicans, cruised to re-election: Secretary of State Tom Schedler, Treasurer John Kennedy, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.
GOP Attorney General Buddy Caldwell will fight to hang onto his seat in the November runoff, with strong competition from Republican former congressman Jeff Landry. The lieutenant governor's race headed to a runoff between Republican Billy Nungesser, former president of Plaquemines Parish, and Democrat Kip Holden, mayor of Baton Rouge.