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The EWE Effect

Can Edwin Edwards' Resurgence in Popularity Help the Louisana Dems?

Metro New Orleans has been casting a wayward eye to coyotes recently, but the rest of the state's attention has been commanded by the silver fox.


Edwin Washington Edwards has emerged from house arrest, and with his newfound liberty has come the same attention he commanded ten years ago, when he entered federal prison upon conviction for taking bribes in exchange for a riverboat casino license. Despite all the scary words, like "racketeering" and "felony," Louisiana has apparently chosen to put the indiscretions behind them. After all, Edwards is on Facebook now, and the only mention of dirty deeds on his wall are likely to be contained in an off-color joke.

When the state's only four term governor left prison for house arrest, his big appearances seemed to be forming the shape of a victory lap. There would be a ceremonial turn as grand marshal in his hometown's rice festival, and, to get in some of those dirty jokes, a birthday roast in New Orleans in the same Hotel Monteleone where he declared his final gubernatorial victory. After settling into a new house in Gonzales, however, the sunset appears to have lost its luster. After
all, the glow would only obscure a view of the man himself. So, now Edwards has a 33-year-old fiancee, a reality show in the works and, to better keep everyone in the loop about all of it, that Facebook wall.


F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, but he didn't say anything about Cajuns. So, tucking under his belt two comebacks, two indictments, one conviction and one stint in Washington, Edwards' is on his sixth act, and lest we should forget, his third wife.

If it seems odd for an 83-year-old to emerge from prison only to become enamored with mediums that usually attract people a fraction of his age and intelligence quotient, consider Edwards' background. He is a man who has inspired the love of Louisiana, even when he stood in the docket accused of using his office to make money. Edwards is a master of retail,or face-to-face, politicking. He remembers everyone's name, has memorable chats with the people he meets, and inspires great loyalty. It doesn't hurt that he loves seeing his face on the screen almost as much as you do.


Even before the great populist, Huey Long, this style of politics has a great tradition in Louisiana. But in his final two campaigns for governor, EWE faced the beginning of the end of this tide. Those pesky corruption allegations dogged him. In the 1991 campaign against David Duke, the national attention and "campaign from hell" atmosphere was much closer to the media funhouse campaigns we are now used to than red-hot populism. How else can one explain a bid in which the central slogan was, "Vote for the Crook, It's Important?"


Still, with President Barack Obama embracing social media, politicians are struggling to find ways to regain populism. Without the media constantly changing the subject and asking about scandal and conflict, the theory goes, the politicians control the conversation. Edwards' foray into cable voyeurism and social media are simply a new way for people to see him, unfiltered and up-close. There's no battle of wits anymore, but maybe Trina will give him a good run when the reality show cameras are around.


And what if he's onto something? Along with stroking his own ego at every wall post that says, "You're still my governor," EWE's constant visibility has put him in an unlikely role: the most watched Democrat in a gubernatorial election year. Edwards sits in a unique position, envied by any Democrat who wants to be governor, but lies awake at night thinking about the attack ads Bobby Jindal could launch with a $20 million war chest. If Edwards uses his mastery of these modern tools for his first love, politics, his party might have a chance of coming back from the dead.

Four months remain, and the state's Democrats still don't have a formidable candidation for governor. They could probably use an Edwards run, but he can't enter the race because he is a convicted felon. There's nothing about appearing on the campaign trail, though. What would count more at this point than a lift from a mention on Edwards' Facebook account? An Edwards campaign appearance and endorsement would attract a huge chunk of attention that the Democrats can't seem to attract at this point. First, of course, they need a candidate, who can stand beside the legend as somewhat of an equal. Even though the Democrats are facing a man who was frequently comarped to Mr. Rogers during his national coming-out, they face a lack of galvanizing personalities among their ranks.


Caroline Fayard tried to get the anger going when she talked about Republicans "eating their young." But when Republicans rolled out bumper stickers that said, "Caroline Fayard hates me," her calculated response appeared to be to run for secretary of state. Edwards, on the other hand, would've had a sound bite at the ready.


In 1983, Edwards was coming to the end of a tough race with David Treen, and was asked about his chances by a reporter clearly looking for a chink in the EWE armor. His response was disarming: "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy". Even at 83, Edwards is sounding off with remarks like "You're only as young as the woman you feel." Adding him to the campaign trail would attract huge attention, but it would distract from the candidate if a little bit of the quick wit and charm weren't at the ready


If that doesn't work, perhaps there's a job for him in consulting. When Buddy Leach went before the Baton Rogue Press Club to rally the faithful last month, he barely elicited a yawn. Edwards posts a picture of himself grilling, and it's trending off the charts. Leach is an old friend of Edwards, and the chairman already hired his friend as a consultant to his oil and gas business. So why not politics? Edwards could teach Leach a little bit about stagecraft. The former governor didn't get 5,000 Facebook followers and front-page headlines by listing off a dry list of names of potential candidates, like Leach did at a recent speech in Baton Rogue. He pulled stunts.


During his first corruption trial in the 1980s, Edwards rode a mule from his hotel to the courthouse, a subtle demonstration of his feelings on the pace of the proceedings. With Edwards adivising the Dems on how to pull off events, they might at least get a foot in the race.


But with his reality show going national, maybe Edwards doesn't want to keep his sights in Louisiana. After all, there is another Consitution that doesn't say anything about felony convictions.


As EWE told his first post-prison audience in Baton Rouge last week: the past is prologue...and, you know, that thing about the girl taking off her underwear, too:


Only if u ask real nice and

Only if u ask real nice and behave this time.

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