GOP blasts Jay Dardenne over his support of Dem John Bel Edwards

Former Republican challenger Jay Dardenne endorses John Bel Edwards for governor

Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said he expected backlash from his party, and he's getting it.

The head of the state Republican Party did not mince words.

"Today, Jay Dardenne became the Nick Saban of Louisiana Politics," state GOP Chairman Roger Villere said.

Early Thursday morning, Dardenne threw his support behind John Bel Edwards, a Democrat running for governor, over Republican David Vitter.

Dardenne, who was a candidate for governor until he failed to make the runoff, held a news conference in an area called Free Speech Alley on LSU's campus.

"I will remain a Republican but I also am someone who believes in voting for the person not the party," Dardenne said.

He said he gave his decision considerable thought, but in the end followed his heart after a primary race that saw Dardenne and Vitter clash.

"I know better than anybody that just because David Vitter and his super PAC say something on TV doesn't make it true, I've come to know and respect John Bel during this campaign. I've done my due diligence," Dardenne said.

Vitter trailed Edwards once all the votes were counted the night of the primary election. Dardenne believes voters would make a big mistake if they elected the senior U.S. senator for Louisiana as the state's CEO.

"We as Louisianians need to stop tolerating the embarrassment that too many of our elected officials have heaped on us. The Republican brand has been damaged by the failed leadership of Bobby Jindal during this last term, and a David Vitter governorship would further damage that brand as I and others have pointed out in the campaign," Dardenne said.

"I value Jay, not only his endorsement , but his advice and his input, because we're going to have to work together," Edwards said.

We repeatedly requested an interview with Vitter about campaign issues, as well as Dardenne's endorsement, but received a statement instead.

"We're very excited about our campaign and the tens of thousands of conservative Louisiana voters who have jumped on board in the past week, including so many that voted for Jay. We wish Jay and his family the best," the statement said.

The Louisiana Republican Party as well as the national GOP criticized Dardenne.

"You know Jay served most of his political life as a Republican and is serving as lieutenant governor as a Republican and used the Republican Party to get elected, and our resources, you know, and our finances all these years, and we feel like it's an act of betrayal," Villere said.

A joint letter went out from the state GOP and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus.

"We've had a lot of people speak with Jay, we've had a lot of different emissaries reach out to the Dardenne camp," Villere said.

Villere acknowledged it was a bruising primary campaign and things got heated between the candidates, but said he wished Dardenne had taken some time to cool off.

"So you have a lot of raw emotions," he said.

Dardenne knew he would face criticism.

"But I believe it to be true, I believe that the Democrats wouldn't have any legs in Louisiana at all if we had a governor who had been paying attention to our state, and that hasn't been the case. And as I said during the campaign, there will be continued questions about Sen. Vitter and they're not going to go away," Dardenne said in an apparent reference to the years-old prostitution scandal involving Vitter.

Though Edwards was thrilled with the endorsement, he said he would take nothing for granted and left LSU to head back to the campaign trail.

"Still going to be the same message. It's about putting Louisiana first," Edwards said.

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