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Outcome may cost GOP one majority but achieve another

The somewhat-surprising, because of its size and timing, win of state Rep. Fred Mills over fellow Republicans and independents for the Senate District 22 seat puts the GOP on the doorstep of legislative majorities amid questions of Mills’ reliability concerning his new party.

While the race may have looked to head to a general election runoff, instead Mills took 60 percent of the vote, with runner-up and fellow (almost as new) Republican state Rep. Simone Champagne polling only about a third as much. With his office about to become vacant, that pushes Republicans down to 52 House seats, compared to 48 Democrat and four independents. But as the GOP technically as a result loses its absolute majority in the lower chamber, it inches to the brink of gaining it in the Senate, as Mills will soon make for a 19-19 tie between the major parties in the upper chamber, with another spot to be decided in less than four weeks.

Although the combined length of time both Mills and Champagne has spent as Republicans has been eight months and, until now, neither elected as one, many conservatives in the party preferred Champagne on this basis of a slightly more conservative voting record and that Mills, until the past year, was a faithful donor to liberal candidates and state Democrats. However, with a Louisiana Legislature Log voting index score over the past three years of above 71, just about what House Republicans have averaged over the same time and way above the Democrat average of around 44 (100 being the most conservative/reform), Mills has appeared to have walked the walk which may allay fears of him being a conservative/Republican-in-name-only.

Mills may have done so well given the other four candidates split the southern part of the district while he could monopolize the northern part, but it was more than that. Only two parishes comprise the district, Mills’ from (the northern part of) St. Martin and the others from Iberia, with the population edge 16 points to Iberia’s favor, but not only did St. Martin turn out seven percentage points better where Mills cleaned up at nearly 90 percent of the vote, but he barely trailed Champagne in Iberia with each scoring about a third of the vote. Clearly pulling almost equal numbers of votes from each as well as competing with Champagne in Iberia and wiping everybody out in St. Martin shows a superior campaign job.

With none of the defeated candidates from his House District 46, nobody got a head start on replacing him. In 2007, no Republicans ran where Mills trounced his opposition with 84 percent of the vote. Further, Republicans may have preferred a Champagne win as her district has 8.5 percent fewer blacks than Mills’ 31 percent, which accounts for the higher Democrat registration in Mills’. My research has shown the tipping point historically in Louisiana for legislative contests is a ratio of 8:3 Democrats to Republicans registered, where above that statistic Democrats almost always win, and below that Republicans almost always win. While Champagne’s district is a little above that at 2.44, Mills’ is higher at 2.70. By contrast, the Senate district just won by Mills is at 2.31, just below the cutoff, so maybe he and Champagne knew what they were doing when they switched. And that no Democrat ran in this competitive district demonstrates the GOP has a pretty good shot at getting a successor to Mills, but obviously depending upon the quality of the candidates who run.

But even if Republicans can’t get it, they still have effective control of the House as two of the four independents (one switched from the GOP after the session) tend to vote with them the majority of the time (average LLL index score of all four of 62.50 for 2010, compared to the average Republican score of 74.50 and the Democrat average of 55.85). They’ll probably trade that for an outright Senate majority which can be provided by a District 25 special election outcome on Feb. 19 with state Rep. Jonathan Perry besting his Democrat challenger, a likely outcome where the registrant ratio is 2.15.

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