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Edwards wanders in reelection no-man's land

Standing out like a boil in the old Confederate South, no wonder Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards attracts attention, good and bad.

With Republicans controlling every legislative chamber in these states and only Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe and North Carolina’s Roy Cooper joining Edwards as a Democrat chief executive – although among the deep South states the only Democrat-run branch of government comes courtesy of Edwards – such an outlier does not go unnoticed. The odd and unique 2015 election that sent him to the Governor’s Mansion and his trials and tribulations since have prompted both speculation about his future and actions to shape it in ways he would not like.

After the 2016 election confirmed the steep downward trajectory of Democrats over the past six years – propped up from falling into an electoral crevasses only by the concept known as former Pres. Barack Obama – some argued that the way back would come from accepting less liberal candidates, with Edwards standing out. He explicitly ran on God and guns, even as his anti-abortion stance seemed somewhat manufactured, while maintaining thoroughly liberal views on the size of government and economics. Possibly, some observers suggest, he may serve as a model to enable his party to come back.

Which is a pipe dream. Rather than understand the party’s losses came as a result of popular revulsion to unrestrained liberalism inflicted upon the people year after year, its leaders and activists instead appear to desire doubling down on that failed idea. Edwards immediately flunks their ideological purity test, and would have about as much traction – none – as a presidential candidate as did moderate Democrat former Sen. Jim Webb. National Democrats will tolerate him as a governor, but never would permit him to become the face of the party.

At the same time, conservatives understand Edwards stands as an impediment to their agenda, and chafe at his accidental governorship that blocks progress in Louisiana. Therefore, they see this aberration as most vulnerable for reelection and already have started laying the groundwork for his defeat in a normal election environment.

One such group, America Rising, has stepped up its opposition research on Edwards and understands the low-hanging fruit out there to pick and pummel him with over the next 30 months. Edwards did backtrack on his willingness to use tax increases to keep larger government than necessary – something anybody could have seen coming given his enthusiasm for these as a state legislator – claiming he did not think the budget had such problems, even though as a legislator he had inside information available on a monthly basis that made the situation obvious.

More recently, Edwards took costly foreign trips, even though in one instance, Cuba, that government paid for some of it and in another, Italy and the Vatican, he paid for some of his share of it. But the former had zero payoff since non-humanitarian trade is illegal between the U.S. and Cuba and the latter, ostensibly to confer on human trafficking policy, did not require an overseas trip. None of this required his travel, yet Edwards used to chide his predecessor on his travels out of state – even though the international journeys by former Gov. Bobby Jindal did produce contacts for and boosts to Louisiana trade.

The group as identified these as two instances of hypocritical behavior on Edwards’ part that it can publicize, and there’s much more. For example, while now he criticizes national reform of Medicaid to turn it into a block grant, in 2014 he voted for a state measure supporting that concept. These U-turns especially indict him, as he proclaimed ceaselessly throughout the campaign his trustworthiness, even as Edwards’ operatives try to distract from and dismiss such attempts as “extremely off base.”

Despite Edwards grabbing some fig leaves recently to convey an image of moderation, such as personnel changes and eschewing overt appeals to increase taxes, it’s tough to paint stripes on a horse and call it a zebra. America Rising and other groups and individuals hopefully will keep the electorate reminded of Edwards’ record that, unless it moves significantly rightward, will make his reelection difficult.

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