- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Democrat John Bel Edwards is outraising Republican rival David Vitter in the governor’s race runoff campaign, according to fundraising updates released Thursday.

Edwards, a state lawmaker and the surprise front-runner, has received $4.5 million in contributions since the Oct. 24 primary, his campaign said. Vitter’s campaign - whose initial fundraising prowess dwarfed his competitors for governor - said the U.S. senator took in $2.6 million during the same time. The runoff is Nov. 21.

Ahead of the primary, Vitter had outraised Edwards 3-to-1 and had brought in nearly as much cash as his three major competitors combined. He also spent more heavily than the other candidates.

Fundraising reports from campaigns and outside PACs trying to influence the election’s outcome were due Thursday to the state ethics board, but they only were required to detail spending and collections through Nov. 1. Edwards’ and Vitter’s campaigns released figures they said described the donations they had received through this week.

Asked to comment on the fundraising gap, Vitter issued a statement that pivoted to a mention of his new TV campaign ad, featuring Willie Robertson of reality show “Duck Dynasty.”

He said the number released by the Edwards campaign “certainly explains the paid Democratic buses and vote-hauling operations we’ve observed. On our side, we’re very excited about the clear gains we’re making and our motivated, conservative get-out-the vote effort. And we’re getting a super reaction to our new ad.”

But the fundraising numbers continue a trend of momentum for Edwards in the race, with little more than a week before the runoff. Polls have shown a sizable lead for Edwards in a conservative state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2008.

“David Vitter is down in the polls, and donors are turning their backs on him,” Edwards campaign spokeswoman Mary-Patricia Wray said in a statement.

Vitter’s negatives spiked with voters amid continuing talk of his 2007 prostitution scandal, a blistering primary battle with two GOP rivals and the high unpopularity of term-limited Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is running for president. Vitter also has been hit with allegations that a private investigator working for his campaign secretly filmed the Jefferson Parish sheriff and others.

Outside groups have had a heavier hand in this governor’s race than in prior elections, and they continue to be major players in the runoff.

A pro-Edwards super PAC called Louisiana Families First has raised $292,000 since the primary, mainly from unions but also from Edwards’ Democratic colleagues in the Legislature, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Also working to elect Edwards is Gumbo PAC, which has drawn $1.8 million in contributions during the runoff period, $1.3 million of that from the Democratic Governors Association.

The Republican Governors Association has poured $2 million into its Right Direction PAC to support Vitter’s election effort, according to reports filed with the ethics board. The pro-Vitter super PAC called The Fund for Louisiana’s Future has raised another $672,000 since the primary, including a $100,000 donation from Jim Walton of the Wal-Mart family.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte at twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

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