New polling out today, ten days before Louisiana’s fall general election, suggests that the governor’s race runoff will be between Republican US Sen. David Vitter, and Democrat John Bel Edwards, a veteran member of the Louisiana House:

Edwards is now in first place at 24 percent, while Vitter is at 21 percent; Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, 8 percent and Public Service Commission Scott Angelle, 7 percent, according to the poll.

A large percentage of voters — 37 percent — remain undecided. Three percent of those questioned declined to answer.

The gap between Edwards and Vitter widens when the results are narrowed to the “most likely” voters — the 400 respondents who profess to being either “very” or “extremely” interested in the Oct. 24 gubernatorial election.

Among those voters, the results are Edwards, 32 percent; Vitter, 24 percent; Dardenne, 10 percent; and Angelle, 10 percent..

More:

In a hypothetical runoff, Edwards, with 48 percent, leads Vitter, with 32 percent, among registered voters.

That margin jumps to Edwards, with 52 percent, and Vitter, with 33 percent, among most likely voters, according to the poll.

Pollster John Grimm said the numbers are based on those likely to vote in the primary.

Dardenne and Angelle are splitting the anti-Vitter Republican vote. Vitter is disliked and distrusted among many Republicans, and you see bumper stickers around that say “ABV: Anybody But Vitter.” My guess is that the huge number of undecideds at this point are Republicans who can’t decide which of the two un-Vitters to vote for.

Under the state’s election rules, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff. Most voters in the state are Republicans. If Vitter and one of the other Republicans make it to the runoff, the other Republican will probably beat him, given how stained Vitter is with scandal. But if it’s Vitter and Edwards, there’s a very good chance that the Democrat will emerge triumphant from the runoff. Why?

Though he is way ahead in fundraising, Vitter has high negatives, especially among women, who don’t appreciate his being caught in a prostitution scandal in 2007. Apparently in Louisiana, if you’re a politician who’s going to cheat on his wife, you can only get away with it if you are charming, like Edwin Edwards; Vitter is many things, but charming is not one of them. On the other hand, Vitter easily won re-election in 2010.

The Democrat, John Bel Edwards (no relation to Edwin), is a solid legislator who is widely respected. He’s a pro-life, pro-gun Catholic Democrat from rural Louisiana, and a West Point graduate who served as an Army Ranger. He benefits from the fact that the Republicans, who have run both the executive (under Gov. Bobby Jindal) and legislative branches of government since 2007, have presided over a budgetary disaster, including the evisceration of LSU. Often, Edwards was the loudest voice standing up to Jindal. Quite a few Republican voters motivated by good-government concerns wouldn’t have much trouble voting for Edwards, if only because Jindal has so tarnished the GOP brand.

True, Vitter and Jindal are well known for their mutual animosity, but I’m not sure if that helps Vitter at all in a Vitter-Edwards race. Plus, in a strongly anti-Washington political climate, the fact that Vitter is a US Senator can’t be helpful to him. On the other hand, Vitter has shown no reluctance to attack his Republican opponents for being soft on free phones for welfare recipients, illegal immigration, and other issues that press racial buttons hard. And you can expect Vitter to hit hard on the move by New Orleans Democratic mayor Mitch Landrieu to try to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle. Given the high emotion surrounding the issue of race, identity, history, and symbolism, it’s hard to see how Edwards could avoid coming out against Landrieu’s plan, though doing so risks turning off black voters, whose turnout would be crucial to an Edwards victory. Point is, if Vitter has to face Edwards, the Republican is going to go for the gutter to win the race.

Having nearly four in 10 voters undecided so close to election day means almost anything can happen. If either Angelle or Dardenne dropped out before October 24, the remaining Republican would be a good bet to make it to the runoff, in which case the GOP would likely hold on to the governor’s mansion. If not, though, and it’s a Vitter-Edwards runoff, one of the reddest states in America stands a reasonable chance of electing a Democrat as its next governor.

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