- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Republican Jay Dardenne, who ran unsuccessfully for governor, rebuffed GOP contender David Vitter in the runoff election Thursday and instead backed Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards.

Vitter has been trying to consolidate Republican support in a conservative state where no Democrats hold statewide office, but his campaign tone and his blistering attacks against GOP opponents ahead of the October primary election have angered some among his own party.

“The Republican brand has been damaged by the failed leadership of Bobby Jindal during this last term. A David Vitter governorship will further damage that brand,” Dardenne, Louisiana’s lieutenant governor, said on LSU’s campus, where he started his political career decades ago.

Edwards hopes Dardenne’s endorsement will make Republican voters feel more comfortable with supporting a Democrat in the Nov. 21 runoff. It comes as polls show Edwards in the lead.

“I believe it will make a difference,” Edwards said. “This endorsement is a big deal.”

Dardenne, a member of the GOP since the 1970s, described Edwards as an honorable man “who can build coalitions and whose values best reflect those of our great state.”

“He knows that fear, intimidation and vindictiveness are the enemies of building a coalition to move Louisiana forward. He will govern in a bipartisan manner, based upon what’s best for Louisiana, without regard to how it plays to a national audience,” Dardenne said.

Vitter didn’t comment directly on the endorsement.

“We’re very excited about our campaign and the tens of thousands of conservative Louisiana voters who have jumped on board in the past week, including so many that voted for Jay. We wish Jay and his family the best,” Vitter said in a statement.

But Dardenne was chastised by state and national Republican leaders.

In a letter, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Republican Party of Louisiana Chairman Roger Villere called the endorsement “an act of betrayal to the Republican Party” and asked him to reconsider.

A long-time state elected official, Dardenne ran fourth in the primary, garnering 15 percent of the vote. He and third-place finisher Scott Angelle, a Republican who hasn’t endorsed a runoff candidate, were repeatedly slammed by Vitter and a pro-Vitter super PAC ahead of the primary.

Vitter and the PAC - called The Fund for Louisiana’s Future - suggested Dardenne wasted tax dollars in office, supported abortion rights and called Dardenne a “political insider who is failing Louisiana.”

In response, Dardenne accused Vitter of using false, Washington-style attack ads and divisive campaign tactics. He described Vitter as ineffective and “vicious.” He also called Vitter’s 2007 prostitution scandal a humiliation for the state.

“How can I pretend that everything I said about David Vitter less than two weeks ago has no meaning?” Dardenne said.

The endorsement could give Edwards a significant bump with Dardenne voters weighing whether they should follow party loyalties or maybe just stay home on Election Day. Dardenne offered his support two days before early voting begins.

Vitter reached out to Dardenne for his support, and the two men met to discuss it. But the talks didn’t sway Dardenne.

Since the primary, Vitter and other Republican Party leaders have sought to reassemble the splintered voting base among the GOP, describing the voters who chose Angelle and Dardenne as more ideologically similar to Vitter than to Edwards. Vitter has tried to tie Edwards to Obama, who is unpopular in Louisiana.

Edwards has positioned himself as a moderate Democrat of the type that once was regularly elected to statewide office in Louisiana. He highlights his pro-gun, anti-abortion stances, his military background and his West Point degree.

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