Vitter announces Senate retirement after losing La. gubernatorial race

Vitter announces Senate retirement after losing La. gubernatorial race
© Greg Nash
 
Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards defeated Vitter, bringing an end to a rough campaign that saw Vitter fall short after entering as the heavy favorite.
 
The New Orleans Times-Picayune called the race for Edwards just after 10 p.m. Eastern time Saturday night, a little more than hour after polls closed.
 
"I am going to refocus on the important work of the United States Senate," Vitter said during his concession speech, according to NOLA.com. "I am, but I am only going to be doing that for one more year through the end of this term."
 
Edwards and Vitter advanced to the runoff after finishing as the top two in the Oct. 24 open primary. In Louisiana’s “jungle primary” system, candidates of all parties run together, with the top two finishers having a runoff if neither one secures 50 percent of the vote.
 
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The well-known Vitter, first elected to the Senate in 2004 after serving in the House of Representatives, was the prohibitive favorite during the early stages of the race. But after sustained attacks targeting his involvement in a 2007 prostitution scandal, he barely defeated two of his Republican challengers and finished in second behind the lesser-known Edwards by 14 points in the jungle primary.
 
Jay Dardenne, Louisiana’s Republican lieutenant governor, finished fourth in the jungle primary. He crossed party lines to endorse Edwards over Vitter in the runoff.
 
“When are we as Louisianans going to stop tolerating the embarrassment that too many of our elected officials have heaped upon this state?” Dardenne said of Vitter.
 
Edwards based his campaign on personal integrity, contrasting his degree from West Point and tenure in the Army Rangers with Vitter’s scandal.
 
In a particularly ruthless ad, Edwards claimed Vitter had chosen “prostitutes over patriots” by skipping a vote to honor fallen soldiers in order to take a call from a prostitute.
 
Vitter tried to link Edwards to the policies of President Obama, who is very unpopular in deeply conservative Louisiana.
 
The race took a turn last week amid the growing controversy on whether to admit Syrian refugees into the country.
 
Vitter said his Democratic challenger would open Louisiana’s floodgates to the refugees, even though Edwards said he opposes the president’s relocation plan.
 
Edwards responded by calling Vitter a desperate liar, saying he lacked a “moral compass” and was a “hypocrite.”
 
The race was one of the most expensive in Louisiana’s history, as candidates and outside groups spent at least $30 million in the mudslinging contest.
 
Polls heading into Saturday’s runoff had Edwards leading by double-digits.
 
--This report was updated on Nov. 22 at 6:08 a.m.