Louisianans just re-elected John Bel Edwards as their governor. It was a close race that drew a great deal of national attention, including three visits to the state by President Trump — who won the state by nearly 20 percentage points — to extoll his supporters to give him a win by voting Edwards out of office. So what does Edwards’ victory mean?
National commentators often pointed out that Edwards is the only Democrat governor in the deep south, and described Louisiana as a “deep red” state, implying it is heavily Republican. But the latter is not quite true. It wasn’t very long ago that “Republican” was considered a cuss word akin to “Damn Yankee.” Registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans 7-to-5.
While African-American voters tend to be very loyal to the Democrat party, voting the straight party ticket about 95 percent of the time, there are many independents and former Democrats who frequently split their tickets. For example, in the primary election, the Republican candidates for governor received 51 percent of the vote, while the Republican candidates down-ballot from the governor’s race generally received more than 60 percent of the vote. That could only happen if 11 percent of the voters split their tickets.
On the one hand, the strong performance down-ballot is good news for Republicans because it means voters were not abandoning the Republican Party and its conservative brand is still strong. On the other hand, the fact that Donald Trump’s 20-point margin in the presidential election did not translate into a 20-point win in the governor’s race suggests that Trump’s coattails may not be as long as he claims. For both parties, it should send a message that Edwards’ image as a moderate appealed to many voters, and the way to win future elections may not be by taking extreme and divisive positions.
Louisiana Republicans had hoped they could take back the governorship by avoiding the mud-slinging that took place among their candidates in the last gubernatorial primary. They largely succeeded in that. But this time around their candidates spent much of their time quibbling over which one was “Trumpier,” and precious little time was spent talking about solutions to the state’s many problems.
What should have been an election over state issues was abducted by national events — particularly the impeachment investigation going on in congress. There is little doubt the Democrat-controlled House will vote to impeach the president and a trial will take place early next year in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. Part of Trump’s strategy in dealing with impeachment is to make sure Republican senators don’t defect and vote to remove him from office. One way he is doing this is by trying to convince Republican senators that if they do so, their political careers will be over. Thus, his three trips to Louisiana.
How did Edwards win (or Rispone lose)? In an effort to find out, I looked at the voting in Calcasieu Parish. Granted, Southwest Louisiana with its booming economy is in a very different position than the rest of the state, which is suffering economically, so these results may not apply statewide.
One question I had was whether the Abraham voters would rally behind Rispone because he had engaged in some negative campaigning against Abraham toward the end of the race. I looked at the vote totals in the precincts won by Abraham and those won by Rispone.
In both cases the number of votes cast for Republican candidates in the runoff was down about 9 percent (2,200 votes) from the number cast in the primary. But most of this could be explained by an increase of 1,800 in early voting.
To see if a heavy African-American turnout might have affected the race, I looked at the vote totals in heavily Democrat precincts (those which voted for Edwards by more than 80%), which tend to be predominantly African-American. The result was very similar: GOP down 10 percent, Democrats up 9 percent.
The biggest change I found was in the early voting. Although the GOP count was up 28 percent, early voting for Edwards was up 42 percent.
This goes along with news reports that in the closing weeks of the campaign, the Edwards team brought in consultants specialized in getting out the early vote, and particularly those experienced in working with churches in African-American communities.
According to the consultants (Associated Press, Nov. 9, 2019), Trump’s visits to Louisiana energized the African-American community to get out and vote early.
If that is the case, Louisiana Republicans are going to have to work a lot harder to get their message to the African-American community if they want to move back into the governor’s mansion.