When Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards (D) was asked on national television about rumors that he was about to be indicted on charges of misusing his office to benefit former business associates, he drew on his fondness for the craps table for a comeback.
"I'll give 8-to-5 against," said Edwards, one of the most flamboyant and arguably the most embattled governor in the nation.
That was two weeks ago. Today, he offered a slighty less plucky "I don't know" in response to new speculation that a federal grand jury indictment is imminent.
At a news conference at the state capitol, Edwards, 57, said he would remain in office if indicted and that he is considering running for the Senate seat to be vacated when Russell Long (D-La.) retires next year. Meanwhile, he said, "there's not any paralysis" in state government.
Edwards also reasserted his innocence. But he has acknowledged recently that being the target of two simultaneous, unrelated federal grand jury probes has diminished his clout with the legislature and has tried the patience of his constituents.
By his count, the investigations are the eighth and ninth of a political career in which he has amassed a 15-and-0 election record by styling himself as a populist, back-country rapscallion who stays a step ahead of the sheriff.
Under fire, Edwards has played defense with a brazen offense: After a state official was jailed for making an illegal corporate contribution to his 1971 gubernatorial campaign, Edwards observed, "It may be illegal for him to give it, but it isn't illegal for me to take it."
This time, however, even Edwards' supporters worry that he "may have gone to the well once too often," in the words of his 1984 campaign coordinator, Sam LeBlanc.
One grand jury investigation, supervised by U.S. Attorney John Volz of New Orleans, involves a moratorium on state construction permits for health-care facilities.
Edwards declared the moratorium last year at the beginning of his third term, and it took effect Aug. 1. Eight pending permit applications were exempted -- including five from Health Services Development Corp., a health-care consulting firm whose officers, according to Edwards, had paid him "close to $2 million" while he was out of office from 1980 to 1984.
Volz has said the federal grand jury is investigating possible mail fraud, racketeering and extortion and should adjourn by the end of February.
Another grand jury, supervised by U.S. Attorney Stanford Bardwell of Baton Rouge, is investigating a possible connection between Edwards' legal representation of Texaco Inc. before he returned to office last March and the state's subsequent firing of an independent auditor reviewing Texaco's mineral-royalty payments to the state.
Volz and Bardwell, both Republicans, have denied Edwards' accusations that the probes are politically motivated. Estimates of the political damage to Edwards vary.
"If he isn't indicted or if he's indicted but not convicted, then he remains the most formidable political figure in the state," said Gus Weill, a veteran political consultant who has worked for and against Edwards.
But Ed Renwick, an independent New Orleans pollster, cited a 20-point drop in the last year in the governor's favorable rating.
"Even without these investigations," Renwick said, "he was hurt terribly by having to raise taxes nearly $1 billion last year to cope with the oil and gas revenue shortfalls. Now, when people read stories about him getting $2 million in fees, the sum is so gargantuan that they are bound to wonder, 'Can he really be really be a champion of the little guy?' "
Acknowledging his uncomfortable position, Edwards nonetheless is doing what he can to cultivate his image as a lovable bad boy. He told a recent gathering in New Orleans that he was able to deliver a speech to them only because "I'm between grand juries."