Politics

02.25.14

Bring on the Made-for-Reality-TV District Race Down South

There will soon be a vacant slot to fill in Louisiana’s 6th, and the two interested candidates—Tony Perkins and Edwin Edwards—are guaranteed to bring a dose of drama to the podium.

Despite (or rather because of) being raised Southern Baptist, I am uncomfortable with the whole concept of intercessory prayer. Sarah Palin may be cool with asking God to bring her state a new pipeline, but I tend to question both the wisdom and efficacy of such special pleading. That said: Please, please, please, dear Lord, smile on your weary political servants and let the race for Louisiana’s 6th congressional district blossom into the saint-vs.-sinner, more-fun-than-a-barrel-of-hookers, made-for-reality-TV smackdown it has the potential to be.

To review: Louisiana’s 6th is being vacated by Rep. Bill Cassidy, now the Republican frontrunner in the hunt to oust Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. Among those expressing a potential interest in filling Cassidy’s House seat is traditional-values crusader Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, who publicly slammed Cassidy last month as “weak on the issues.”.

Ordinarily, the possibility of a Perkins run for office would be about as thrilling as a vigorous tooth flossing. While a fine, upstanding culture warrior, Perkins doesn’t exactly set the campaign trail ablaze. His straight-arrow conservatism won him two terms in the state legislature, but when he tried for a U.S. Senate seat in 2002, the electorate yawned. Perkins pulled less than 10 percent of the vote in the state’s jungle primary.

But Louisiana’s political landscape could suddenly go topsy-turvy—and Perkins’ stalwart Christian soldier shtick will become vastly more interesting—if the battle for the 6th is joined by former Gov. Edwin Edwards.

An Edwards campaign would be an electoral Mardi Gras for political junkies. The Silver Fox is colorful in a way that makes Tea Party characters like Ted Cruz or Allen West look dishwater dull by comparison.

Yes, that Edwin Edwards, the legendary Democratic populist and roué best known for boasting of his 1983 gubernatorial bid: “The only way I can lose this election is if I get caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.” The same Edwin Edwards who was convicted of racketeering in mid-2000, served eight years in federal prison, and then, a mere six months after his release in 2011, married a prison pen pal 51 years his junior with whom he went on to star in a very short-lived reality show on A&E.

Despite all this, and despite being 86 years old, Edwards informed Bloomberg’s Al Hunt last week that he is this close to making a play for Cassidy’s seat. “I'm just figuring out all the legalities and how to set up a super PAC, and then I'm going," he told Hunt. A Louisiana political blog has even reported that friends of the governor commissioned a poll last month to gauge support for Edwards in the district.

An Edwards campaign would be an electoral Mardi Gras for political junkies. The Silver Fox is colorful in a way that makes Tea Party characters like Ted Cruz or Allen West look dishwater dull by comparison. During his long, checkered career in public service, Edwards was investigated for corruption upwards of 20 times in 20 years, while his reputation as a chronic womanizer would have put JFK to shame.

And my, oh my, just think of the sound bites. Forget the ideological bomb-throwing and conspiracy-peddling and fear-mongering so popular these days: Edwards is an old-fashioned outrage artist who, whenever possible, brings everything back around to sex. During his 1991 gubernatorial run against ex-KKK leader David Duke, Edwards noted, “The only thing we have in common is that we’re both wizards under the sheets.” When CBS’s Ed Bradley observed that politicians traditionally like to kiss babies, Edwards joked, “It’s more fun to kiss mothers.” As for the rise of women in politics, Edwards once announced his new motto as, “Up with skirts and down with pants!”. Neither age nor prison have tamed him one whit. At a pre-birthday roast in July 2011, Edwards joked, “I give blood for them to make Viagra.”

Now picture Edwards going head-to-head with Perkins. On one shoulder, Louisiana voters would have perched an unapologetic rascal and convicted crook whispering dirty jokes in their ears; on the other would sit the upright, professionally pious embodiment of the moralizing wing of the GOP. Given a choice between the scoundrel and the scold, who might the people go for?

Considering the deep red bent of the district, Perkins would have a strong partisan edge. Then again, Louisiana voters have long had a soft spot for their naughty ex-governor—who, let’s face it, knows how to laissez les bon temps rouler better than any other pol out there.

Not that this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle is likely to come to pass. Perkins seems slightly more inclined to shoot for Sen. David Vitter’s seat if Vitter wins his 2015 gubernatorial bid. Edwards’ wife, meanwhile, is already pushing back against the idea that her hubby is absolutely, positively running.  

Still, political watchers can dream, can’t we? Maybe even offer up a silent prayer or two. After all, we are talking about the state that brought us Huey Long and his little brother Earl—a state whose leading contender to be the next governor is a religious conservative with a prostitution scandal in his not-so-distant past. Time and again, Louisiana politics has offered evidence that voters, and perhaps even the Almighty, have a rich sense of humor.