Democrat John Bel Edwards took a victory lap last night after winning Louisiana’s gubernatorial race by a wide margin. While things had looked pretty good for Republican Senator David Vitter a couple of months ago, in the end it really wasn’t even close. (New York Times)

With a victory that defied political geography and near universal predictions from just months earlier, a previously little-known Democrat, State Representative John Bel Edwards, soundly defeated United States Senator David Vitter in a runoff election on Saturday to become the next governor of Louisiana.

Mr. Edwards won 56 percent of the vote with virtually all of the ballots counted.

During his concession speech, Vitter shocked some of his supporters by saying that not only would he not be taking over as governor, he would also not be seeking another term in the Senate and would instead retire. So what went so wrong for the GOP down there?

The answer may not be what you think. One part of the equation is that the Democrats found the right guy to run. Edwards’ biography lays it all out. A West Point graduate and Airborne Ranger, Edwards is pro-gun, hawkish and touts his family’s deep religious faith and ties to the church. If you dropped this guy anywhere else in the country he’d be a Republican. Heck.. .he’d be toward the right wing of the party. In short, they found somebody palatable to any Republicans who were dissatisfied with the current leadership and looking for a change.

Vitter on the other hand may have been a flawed candidate to a certain extent, but was probably more a victim of circumstances in this case. It’s true that he had that whole prostitution thing hanging around in his closet which would have made him untenable in any sort of national race. (There’s no quicker way to lose the women’s vote than having a bunch of headlines with the word “hooker” in them following you around.) But back home in Louisiana the people seemed to have largely forgiven him his transgressions. The prostitute scandal broke in 2007 and 2008, but in the 2010 race he won reelection to his Senate seat by a daunting 57-38 margin over Charlie Melancon. He may have been wounded, but he was still a solid contender in his home state.

This time however, while Edwards brought up the hooker problem constantly, it was probably Bobby Jindal who sank Vitter. Jindal is term limited, but it’s doubtful that he could have won another term under current conditions anyway. The Governor’s current approval ratings are rarely as high as the mid-30s and have fallen as low as 27% earlier this year. Voters have been dissatisfied with the results of Jindal’s policies and that’s washing over onto the rest of the party. If Vitter were selling a winning message I’m willing to bet the public would have overlooked any past scandals on his resume, but times have been hard down there and people were just looking for a change.

Is this a long term change? Somehow I doubt it. Until national conditions shift a bit there probably won’t be a major shift in public opinion even with a Democrat in the governor’s mansion. Given one term of that, traditional Republicans will likely come back around next time, assuming the GOP can come up with a qualified candidate who has a good back story for the next run. In the meantime, best of luck to Governor-elect Edwards. You’ve got a pretty big challenge in front of you.