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Louisiana's Edwards, after eight years in prison, leads poll in House bid

By Lisa Bose McDermott

SHREVEPORT La. (Reuters) - Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, who served eight years in prison for racketeering, leads a crowded field for a November open primary in his bid for a U.S. House of Representatives seat but trails head-to-head against two rivals he could face in a runoff, according to a new poll.

The 86-year-old Democrat, who was released from prison in 2011, is vying for the Baton Rouge-area House seat now held by Republican Bill Cassidy, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

An open primary, with candidates from all parties, will be held on Nov. 4, with a runoff set for December pitting the top two vote-getters if no candidate exceeds 50 percent.

Edwards led all candidates in the open primary with the support of 32 percent of 687 respondents questioned on Tuesday in the survey by pollster Darrell Glascock of the Glascock Group released on Thursday. His two nearest rivals, tied at 16 percent, were Republican entrepreneur Paul Dietzel and Republican state senator Dan Claitor.

The poll showed Edwards trailing both Dietzel and Claitor by 14 percentage points head-to-head when pitted in a possible runoff matchup.

The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Edwards, who has maintained his innocence over charges that he asked for payoffs from riverboat casino license applicants while governor in the 1990s, has said improving access to health insurance for Louisiana residents is a priority.

He has criticized current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, for refusing to accept expanded Medicaid coverage in the state through the 2010 healthcare law signed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Edwards served four terms as governor, winning elections for the post in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Prior to that, he served three terms in the House.

(Writing by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Will Dunham)

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