NEW ORLEANS, OCT. 24 -- Edwin Edwards, Louisiana's crapshooting governor, apparently will get one more roll of the election dice. Vote projections tonight showed him surviving the state's non-partisan gubernatorial primary and heading into a Nov. 21 runoff against Democratic congressman Buddy Roemer of Shreveport.
Roemer, who roared from last place in the five-man race in the final two weeks after he was endorsed by the state's major newspapers, was leading with more than 30 percent of the vote, and Edwards was holding what appeared to be a secure second-place position in front of Republican Rep. Robert L. Livingston. Democratic congressman Billy Tauzin and Secretary of State Jim Brown trailed the field.
For Edwards, 60, who has served as Louisiana's governor longer than anyone in this state's colorful political history, Roemer presents perhaps the strongest challenge of his career. The 43-year-old north Louisiana congressman presented himself as the ultimate reform candidate, refusing to accept cash or PAC (political action committee) contributions and saying his mission was to "slay the dragon" -- the dragon being Edwards.
"Louisiana's gonna be proud again, I can feel it," Roemer said, his voice cracking, during a victory celebration at Shreveport's Pierremont Hotel. "My staff has looked at every part of the state and I can say without exaggeration that we were pleasantly surprised by the results everywhere."
Voting patterns studied by political analysts showed that Roemer was picking up 43 percent of the white vote to 14 percent for Edwards. Roemer also seemed to be siphoning off votes from Livingston, Tauzin and Brown, picking up as much as 40 percent of the vote among the state's 300,000 Republicans.
"The vote shows more than anything that people want to see Edwards defeated," said former Republican congressman Henson Moore. "They were looking for the person they thought could do it, and perhaps that led them to vote for Roemer, even some Republicans. For years we were asking Democrats to vote for us, so now I guess turn-around is fair play."
Throughout the campaign it appeared that Edwards' best chance to win reelection to a fourth-term would be to get into a runoff with Livingston, the Republican. His mission now will be to portray Roemer -- whose congressional voting record is conservative on economic and defense issues -- as a Republican in Democratic clothing. But even that strategy, if it worked, might not be enough -- just adding Roemer's figures with Livingston's, Roemer would begin the runoff with perhaps 60 percent of the vote.
For a time it appeared that Edwards' long and picaresque career might end tonight, less than two years after he survived a political corruption trial that ended with his acquittal. But in the end he relied on a lifetime of political chits and a $800,000 election day bankroll to get out the vote in his strongest areas -- the black wards of New Orleans and the Cajun parishes of southwest Louisiana.
The Edwards campaign, led by the governor's younger brother, Marion, paid some 10,000 workers today to hand out voting material and drive supporters to the polls. When asked how he could possibly spend so much money on getting out the vote, Marion Edwards deadpanned: "I had a lot of drivers." He described the street money as his "ace in the hole."
Edwards, who was first elected governor in 1971, had been investigated by at least 10 grand juries before one indicted him on bribery and racketeering charges in 1985. His first trial ended in a hung jury and his second in acquittal. When his trials ended, he announced that he was going to run for governor again, but it took awhile for people to realize that he was serious.
"In the end it was the only way it could go," said John Maginnis, a Baton Rouge political analyst who wrote a book about Edwards' 1983 campaign called "The Last Hayride."
"He either ends his career by quitting or by getting beat. What's the difference? That's all he can do is run for governor. He runs for governor better than he is governor."