BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told state Democratic Party leaders on Saturday that he's backing Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell in the U.S. Senate race, and he encouraged them to unite behind one candidate on the November ballot.
The governor's endorsement of the populist utility regulator from Bossier Parish was a blow to the campaign of Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans lawyer from a family of long-time Democratic Party supporters.
"Foster has demonstrated over the years that he is able to win elections in places where people don't believe a Democrat can or should win. That makes a big difference for me," Edwards told the state party's governing body, the Democratic State Central Committee.
That's well-known territory for Edwards, who was expected to have little of chance of victory when he ran for governor in a state that hadn't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2008. Campbell was an early supporter of Edwards.
"I have watched Foster fight on behalf of ordinary working men and women in Louisiana for years and years and years, and I believe the people of Louisiana are aware of all of that hard work," Edwards said.
Campbell, a member of the Public Service Commission for more than a decade and a long-time state senator before that, called the governor's support "monumental" for his campaign. "It's the biggest endorsement you can get."
Fayard, meanwhile, downplayed its significance, saying she didn't believe it would harm her viability as a candidate. She noted that in 2010, when she ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, she was the lone Democrat to reach the runoff election, though she wasn't the party's choice for the seat.
"I represent a new generation of campaigner," she said. "I think folks have the ability to make their own choices."
Also saying he intends to run for the Senate race is Lafayette-area businessman Josh Pellerin, a Democrat and political newcomer. At least five GOP contenders have said they'll be on the November ballot to fill the seat being vacated by Republican David Vitter, who announced he would not seek re-election after losing the governor's race to Edwards.
The Republican candidates include: U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany; former U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao; U.S. Rep. John Fleming; state Treasurer John Kennedy; and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness.
The governor encouraged the Louisiana Democratic Party to unify behind one candidate — though he said he wasn't telling the party leaders who they should support. But Edwards stressed what he believes is the importance of an endorsement, saying the party's backing of his candidacy last year helped him to consolidate a base of support.
Boustany, Fleming, Kennedy and Maness — who spent Saturday at a candidate forum sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity — said they didn't believe that Edwards' effort to coalesce Democrats behind one candidate could hurt a Republican's chances at victory in the state's open primary system.
Kennedy said he doesn't believe people vote based on endorsements.
"I'll have quite a few endorsements, and I'll be thankful for them. But I think the people of Louisiana are too smart to just vote for somebody because somebody tells them to. They're not bad, but I don't think they're game-changers," the Republican treasurer said.
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