By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, who had served an eight-year prison term on racketeering charges, said on Monday he will seek election to the U.S. Congress.
The 86-year-old Democrat, who was released from prison about three years ago, will campaign for the seat currently held by Republican Bill Cassidy, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
"I've given a great deal of thought to this ... and I acknowledge that there are good reasons why I should not run ... but there are better reasons why I should," Edwards told reporters at the press club in Baton Rouge, part of the district he is seeking to represent.
"I haven't had this much attention since the trial," he quipped.
Edwards said he is eligible to run for the U.S. House seat because nothing in the U.S. Constitution precludes a felon from becoming a member of Congress.
"I am positive I can run and I am confident I can win," he said.
Edwards said improving access to health insurance for Louisiana residents is a priority. He criticized current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, for refusing to accept expanded Medicaid coverage in the state.
A populist politician in the tradition of Louisiana's famous 1920s governor Huey Long, Edwards is known as an advocate for the poor, which helped him become one of the most popular elected officials in the state's history.
He served four terms as governor, winning elections for the post in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
"I served this state for many years ... and I hope that my record will justify people considering supporting me," he said.
If he should win the November 4 general election, it would mark a return to Washington for Edwards, who served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives during the late 1960s before seeking the governor's office in 1971.
'VOTE FOR THE CROOK'
Edwards served two terms as governor in the 1970s. He was elected again in 1983 and then faced his first federal trial after being indicted in connection with the awarding of hospital operating licenses in the state.
He was acquitted, but his reputation suffered.
Still, Edwards managed a comeback for a fourth term in 1991 after landing in a runoff with Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Voters' fear of Duke becoming governor produced a groundswell of support for Edwards and led to a popular bumper sticker that read: "Vote for the crook - it's important."
After winning the election, Edwards enjoyed a revival of his popularity, but it was during that term that he came under federal scrutiny in connection with the state's licensing of riverboat casinos, and a federal jury convicted him on charges of extorting money from companies seeking licenses.
He has always maintained he was innocent.
While he was in prison, Edwards and his second wife divorced, and he then struck up a relationship with Trina Scott, who had begun writing letters to him in prison. The two married soon after his release in 2011, and the couple had their child, a son, last August.
Edwards, his wife and his daughters from a previous marriage starred in a short-lived A&E reality television show in 2013 called "The Governor's Wife." The network canceled the show after airing three episodes.
"When I was in Congress, Democrats and Republicans met in principled compromise and got things done," Edwards said. "Now all they do is argue and complain and cry and nothing is accomplished."
(Reporting by Kathy Finn; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone, Stephen Powell and Richard Chang)