Kevin McGill / Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Three years after his release from a federal prison, 86-year-old former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards announced Monday that he will enter the race for Louisiana's 6th Congressional District, ending months of speculation about his political future and launching a longshot campaign that, if successful, would mark the second major political comeback of his life.
Edwards made the announcement at a meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge. He entered a crowded meeting room with his third wife, Trina, who is 50 years his junior. He pushed a baby carriage with their infant son, Eli Wallace Edwards, born last August.
He joked about his age, saying he heard that a Florida political candidate is 101 years old. "By the time I'm his age, I'll be in my seventh term," he said.
And he discounted the harm of what he still insists was an undeserved federal corruption conviction in 2000 -- a conviction that would pose a legal prohibition to him running for a state office in Louisiana, but not for Congress.
"I'm positive I can run. I'm confident I can win," Edwards said.
Republicans immediately used the announcement to gig the Democratic party for failing to come up with a credible candidate in the conservative south Louisiana district.
"Edwin Edwards is the personification of the Louisiana Democrat Party," the state GOP's statement said. One Republican candidate, Craig McCulloch, said Edwards' terms as governor were "a stain on our state's history."
LSU political science professor Kirby Goidel said the four-term former governor has a credible shot at making a runoff in what looks to be a crowded field -- at least nine candidates have filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission, nearly all of them Republican.
Edwards' winning a runoff against a Republican in the GOP-leaning Baton Rouge-based district appears highly unlikely, Goidel said.
Still, he added, "you never say there's a probability of zero, especially with Edwin Edwards."
Edwards had been a state legislator and congressman when he won his first race for governor in 1971, earning a reputation for charm, quick-witted humor and political savvy while demonstrating an unabashed fondness for casino gambling and developing a never-denied image as a womanizer. He was re-elected with ease in 1975 and, after sitting out because of term limits, in 1983.
His career had appeared over when he failed to win a fourth term in 1987 after the state economy soured and he was tried for corruption (winning acquittal but suffering the political damage). But he roared back in 1991, winning a runoff spot in a crowded field that saw then-incumbent Buddy Roemer ousted and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke placing second.
Despite packaging himself as a mainstream conservative Republican, Duke couldn't shake his racist record. Edwards easily won the runoff in a campaign marked by Duke-opposition bumper stickers that read "Vote for the crook. It's important."
This time, Edwards is running for a seat being vacated by Republican Bill Cassidy, who is running for the Senate against incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. The 6th District stretches from Pointe Coupee Parish down into Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, containing most of the metropolitan Baton Rouge area. It is considered a strong GOP base.
Candidates include state Sen. Dan Claitor, Gov. Bobby Jindal's former coastal adviser Garret Graves and software company owner Paul Dietzel, the grandson of a popular former LSU football coach. One other Democrat has announced he's in the race: real estate broker Richard Lieberman, from LaPlace.
"Unlike last time, don't vote for the crook. It's important," Claitor tweeted Monday.
Goidel said Edwards' candidacy is a mixed bag for Democrats. Edwards, who traditionally drew strong African-American support, could help bring traditional Democratic constituencies to the polls, he said; but his scandal-tinged image doesn't help the party. "That image of sort of old-school Louisiana politics -- that's where he potentially does some damage," Goidel said.
That image includes Edwards' heading to federal prison in 2000 after his conviction on fraud and racketeering charges. That case arose from the licensing of riverboat casinos during his final term. He spent eight years in prison for the fraud and racketeering case.
Before and after his prison term, he defended himself as a victim of an unfair federal judge in Baton Rouge, perjured testimony by former friends who had sought casino licenses and an overzealous federal government. Federal prosecutors have denied all of those accusations.
Edwards regained the public eye soon after leaving prison in 2011 after he married his wife and starred with her in a short-lived reality TV series.
On Monday, he touched quickly on several issues and sought to strike a right-of-center political tone. He expressed support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. He said he dislikes President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, saying it was "fraught with pitfalls" and failed to allow people to keep insurance policies they like. But he embraced parts of the law, including prohibitions against denying insurance to people because of pre-existing conditions.
And he said he would work to reverse Jindal's refusal to accept expanded Medicaid coverage under that law, saying working poor people and the unemployed need such coverage. He added that without the help from Medicaid, many would wind up clogging emergency rooms and become a burden on state taxpayers.