Louisiana gov race jolted by Syrian refugee debate

Nov. 16, 2015: Louisiana gubernatorial candidate, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., center, speaks to reporters after his debate against Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP)

Nov. 16, 2015: Louisiana gubernatorial candidate, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., center, speaks to reporters after his debate against Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP)

The Syrian refugee debate has jolted the Louisiana governor's race ahead of this weekend's election, as underdog GOP candidate David Vitter seized on the issue to cast his opponent as soft on security -- and his opponent, in turn, accused Vitter of peddling "lies."

The race is to be decided Saturday in a runoff between Vitter and front-running Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards.

Vitter, a two-term senator, has suffered a bumpy few weeks, with bad poll numbers and a past prostitution scandal resurfacing when Edwards – a state representative and former U.S. Army Ranger – ran an ad accusing Vitter of answering a call from a prostitute after skipping a vote honoring soldiers.

Vitter responded with an ad featuring “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson, who described Vitter’s story as one of redemption.

However, with the deadly terror attacks on Paris dominating the news, Vitter has changed focus to the question of Syrian refugees seeking resettlement in the United States.

On Tuesday, Vitter introduced a bill in the Senate that would stop the influx of refugees “until verification safeguards are in place to confirm that each refugee arriving is not here to pose a threat to this country.”

“As a sanctuary city, New Orleans already attracts illegal immigrants, and now with Obama’s directive to invite 10,000 unconfirmed Syrian refugees into our country, Louisiana is at even greater risk for potential terrorist threats,” Vitter said in a statement. “That is absolutely unacceptable, and I will continue fighting to implement all necessary measures in order to protect Louisianians.”

The campaign has also taken aim at his opponent with a new campaign video that shows one of the explosions in Paris before saying Vitter has pledged not to allow Syrian refugees in, while claiming that Bel Edwards has promised to work with Obama to bring them to Louisiana.

Vitter cited past suggestions by Edwards that he would work with the administration over the Syrian refugee issue.


One of the Paris ISIS terrorists posed as a Syrian refugee to enter France. Now, Obama is sending Syrian refugees to Louisiana & John Bel Edwards pledged to work with him to bring them here! Sign our petition against this now:

Posted by Senator David Vitter on Monday, 16 November 2015

However, Edwards’ campaign says Vitter has lied about Edwards’ position and is firing back at Vitter’s commitment on the issue, saying he missed key Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on Syria, and those are evidence of Vitter’s absenteeism.

“When he had the opportunity to actually make something happen, he didn’t,” Edwards said in a statement. “He has missed every important hearing on this issue. Louisiana already has an absentee governor, and now it seems our absentee Senator failed to do his duty as well.”

The Edwards camp declined to comment to However, Edwards tweeted Wednesday that as early as Saturday he called for a complete pause in the influx of Syrian refugees into the state.

A spokesman for Vitter dismissed the idea that he has not been committed to the crisis, noting that in September Vitter sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson expressing concern about the U.S. ability to conduct the necessary oversight of Syrian refugees entering the country. The spokesman also said that Vitter had attended a number of hearings on the topic in recent years.

Vitter recently notified the Obama administration that a Syrian refugee living in the state has disappeared, calling it "proof that the Obama administration has been completely asleep at the wheel."

Supporters say the refugee issue is important to Louisiana voters, and could be a key issue come election day.

“I think that it is [a top issue] as there’s no clear way to vet these people and make sure they aren’t terrorists,” Jenny Beth Martin, Chairman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, which is supporting Vitter, told “People are concerned and want to make sure America and Louisiana are safe.”

Recent polls have not been fun reading for the Vitter camp. A University of New Orleans poll released last week shows Edwards leading by 22 points.

However Martin said that she believes come election day, it will be a tough race and come down to a question of turnout.

"We have seen that [Edwards] has said he’s going to be with [the] president and he likes President Obama and it really comes down to whether people want a governor with a record of standing up to Obama and his policies or not,” Martin said.

Adam Shaw is a Politics Reporter and occasional Opinion writer for He can be reached here or on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.