Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. If you're an elected official, political operative or anyone else upset at his views, don't go bothering LSUS or LSU System officials about that because these are his own views solely.
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The two incumbents sailed easily through their primary challenges which meant Republican Sen. David Vitter hardly broke a sweat against what was supposed to have been formidable opposition, with 88 percent of the 97,238 voting. By contrast, the incumbent 3rd Congressional District, Democrat Charlie Melancon running to challenge Vitter, picked up only 71 percent in that primary of 110,051, which actually was 7,477 fewer votes than Vitter.
That Melancon scored a lower percentage of the vote against a presumably weaker field of candidates is not a good sign for his candidacy. Worse, that he couldn’t get as many votes as Vitter only reinforces his weakness. But worst of all for him, Vitter drew about 11.24 percent of his total potential electorate in the primary while Melancon drew only around 3.65 percent of his.
This results from two dynamics. The enthusiasm gap that shows Republicans are more likely to come out to support Vitter than Democrats to support Melancon remains operative for now. And related to that is independents seem more likely to support Vitter. This explains why Melancon fared so much more relatively poorer in his primary than did Vitter: independents who wished to vote for Vitter, but who could not because the GOP primary allowed only registered Republicans to vote, to show their disdain for Melancon in the Democrat primary in which they were allowed to participate voted for one of the two unknown candidates who hardly did any serious campaigning. Again, this points to an easy Vitter win in a little over nine weeks.
Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao also must have taken heart from the how the enthusiasm gap played out in his defense of his Second District seat. Not having to participate in a primary, the Republican watched state Rep. Cedric Richmond emerge as his Democrat challenger from their primary, but with only 7.57 percent of that potential electorate bothering to vote of which the winner’s share was not even 5 percent. Again, such a low turnout in the Democrat primary must give Cao hope he can repeat his 2008 victory one portion of which was low turnout in the black community who overwhelmingly are Democrats.
Finally, former state Senate special election candidate Jeff Landry came within a handful of votes of obviating an Oct. 2 runoff against former state Speaker of the House (but as Democrat) Hunt Downer in the Third District GOP primary. At nearly a quarter of the electorate, this spirited contest turned in the highest turnout rate – another sign of the enthusiasm advantage the GOP will enjoy in November – but was the best result for which Democrats could hope with their longshot candidate. This means another five weeks of campaigning for the pair and all the resources they’ll have to use.
Downer must realize his chances are pretty slim. With only Republicans able to participate and turnout likely to be higher because of two constitutional amendments on the ballot and a slew of local races such as for school board, he has to capture practically all of the other defeated candidate’s voters plus more of the new voters, or an overwhelming number of new voters and fewer of the previous voters (who do not seem likely to pass on the runoff in anything but small numbers).
While Downer may take hope of past contests where eventual winners came back from the brink of elimination, that is unlikely in this scenario. For example, the most recent significant office where this happened was in the 2nd state Senate district in 2003 where incumbent Jon Johnson got 49 percent and challenger Ann Duplessis, both Democrats, was 13 points behind. But six weeks later, Duplessis pulled off the win on a turnout increase of about 25 percent. The difference is this was facing the full electorate, not just Republicans, and the rallying around Duplessis was to displace an incumbent; if anything in this anti-incumbent year, Downer is seen as one given his long political history which helps explain his near-elimination.
For party unity and given his chances, it might be best for Downer to withdraw because a similar bitter dynamic between Republicans allowed Melancon to capture a seat he had no business winning in 2004, the rancor allowed him to keep it in 2006, and by 2008 had political forces operating in his favor. That they have abandoned him and other Democrats this year probably will mean that no matter how acrimonious and resource-intensive a GOP runoff may be that victor will win in November, but discretion may be the better part of valor for Downer here.